Students were among the estimated 5,000 people marching through the streets of Dublin today demanding an end to the housing crisis.
Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and Take Back Trinity delegations were present at today’s march, held by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition. The coalition’s central aim is to pressure the government to declare the housing crisis an emergency. They are also calling on the government to develop a minimum of 10,000 public homes a year and end evictions.
The crowd assembled at 1pm at the Garden of Remembrance and marched down O’Connell Street to the Customs House, where a rally was held. Michael Kerrigan, President of the USI, spoke to the crowd, beginning by noting that Census 2016 revealed that 8% of homeless people are students. He outlined the present crisis faced by students, stating that the country was 23,000 purpose-built student beds short last year. By 2019, this number is expected to rise to almost 26,000.
“We have not built enough accommodation to cover this increase, never mind the crisis that is already there,” he said. “These are the consequences of inaction by several governments and our universities.”
“Purpose-built student accommodation does not fall under rent pressure zones, as it is seen as a license rather than a tenancy. Even in private, rented accommodation, students do not benefit from rent pressure zones, as a new nine month lease is taken out every year.”
He said that students were being “exploited,” referencing the 27% increase in rental prices at the Shanowen Square accommodation complex at Dublin City University (DCU). “They showed that through protests, sleep-outs and boycotting businesses that we will take this no longer. This is only the beginning,” Kerrigan said. At the USI annual congress last week, the USI voted unanimously to support the National Homeless and Housing Coalition’s campaign for an end to the housing crisis.
Lord Mayor of Dublin City Mícheál MacDonncha also spoke at the Customs House, saying that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and other elected officials “have failed miserably to address the housing needs of our people. Tens of thousands of people in this country are in dire housing need”.
He said the government officials were “elected to serve all the people. They were not elected to serve property developers, property speculators, rack-renting landlords or rapacious financial institutions but they are exactly the people [the government] are serving with their housing policies”.
“We are not going away. This is only the beginning of a huge campaign,” he said. “We have come here to say loud and clear ‘housing is a human right and we demand our rights now’.”
Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin and People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett also addressed the crowd. The movement is supported by the main housing charities, including the Peter McVerry Trust, Focus Ireland, the Simon Communities, as well as several trade unions and political parties including Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and the Social Democrats.
The most recent figures on the homelessness crisis show that 6,052 adults and 3,755 children were living in emergency accommodation in February, according to the Department of Housing.