Trinity academics sign open letter calling for housing action

The letter saw signatures from academics and experts in housing policy, social policy and human rights

Trinity academics are among the researchers and experts in the fields of housing policy, social policy and human rights, calling for the state to take action on housing policy. The group of academics used the letter to “outline [their] serious concerns with current housing policy.” The letter entitled: “Housing crisis requires radical solutions” was published last Wednesday.

Trinity lecturers amongst the signatures included, Professor Patrick Drudy, Professor Anna R Davies, Dr Frederico Cugurullo, Dr Cian O’Callaghan, Dr Philip Lawton, Dr Martin Sokol and Dr Patrick Bresnihan.

The letter opened by stating that the housing system was the “manifestation of deep structural problems in housing policy and the philosophy that underpins it.” They went on to call for radical change, which they said if not implemented, would allow the crisis to simply, “deepen and worsen.”

The signees also noted that the, “housing emergency,” was damaging the economy’s “productive capacity,” and threatening the recovery of “our social fabric.” They noted that this was because the emergency was “denying the opportunity of a secure and affordable home to hundreds of thousands of people across the country.”

They went on to note various effective measures that could be introduced to resolve the crisis. They called for a new guiding framework to be introduced, “underpinned by a human rights approach, obliging government to ensure that people’s need for an affordable, accessible and secure home is met.”

The academics also called for constitutional reform, by referendum, to “enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution.” Alongside this, they suggested the emulation of “countries that provide successful housing systems, like Austria and Denmark, where social housing comprises between 25% and 45% of total housing stock.”

Alongside its many other recommendations, the letter called for the increasing of building and provision of public housing and the compulsory purchase of derelict properties by Local Authorities in order to bring them back into use. They also called for the implementation of the Kenny Report on acquisition of land.  

In closing the letter, they noted their support for the Raise the Roof rally, “taking place outside Dáil Éireann on October 3rd.” The group also supported: “The broad thrust of the policies outlined in the cross-party housing private members’ motion agreed by a range of Opposition parties, which will be debated in the Dáil on the same day.”

They went on to say that: “The housing crisis can be resolved. It will require institutional and political will to implement policies that can ensure everyone has access to an affordable, secure home in a well-planned community.”

The letter was organised by Dr Rory Hearne, a former president of Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU), and current lecturer in Social Policy at National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM).

Speaking to Trinity News, he stated that: “[He] organised the letter as an attempt to show that a broad range of academic and experts in the areas of social, economic and housing policy and human rights from third level institutes and Think Tanks across the country were concerned with the impacts of the housing crisis and that there was a growing consensus around policy alternatives.”

He concluded by noting the academic belief that, “government policies are not working.” He pointed out that this was a reason to switch to an, “alternative framework for housing,” and one that is “based on human rights and the state building affordable housing.”

He praised those who put their name to the open letter and said that: “Academics are sometimes hesitant to engage in public policy or political ‘critique’ but given the scale of the crisis and the failure of policy, clearly it is time for us to engage as public intellectuals and support civil society articulating alternative policies.”

Former Trinity Bursar and Senior Dean, Professor Patrick Drudy, spoke to Trinity News about the importance of the letter. He said that: “[He] signed because housing is of critical importance for all, including students who are suffering a great deal at present due to the crisis.” He also pointed out the difficulties for students who “pay extortionate rents while at the same time trying to contend with many other costs.”

He remained optimistic, and said: “Hopefully, the letter will be yet another effort to persuade the government to cease relying on the private sector to solve the housing problem. It has patently failed.”

Assistant Professor of Geography in the Trinity School of Natural Sciences Dr Philip Lawton also spoke to Trinity News on the significance of the letter. He explained his involvement by saying that: “My main desire in signing this letter is to demonstrate the need for an alternative housing policy to the one that is in place at present.”

He criticised the, “intertwining of our current governance structures (both national and local),” and the, “dominance of market actors,” which he believed had, “produced a highly uneven system of housing, with what can be seen as extreme impacts over the last number of years.”

He noted his own research, where tries to understand “the relationship between urban governance and everyday life in cities.” He pointed out that: “In picking up on the reference to Denmark and Austria in the Irish Times letter, the learning that is done from elsewhere needs to understand what types of governance will produce alternative forms of housing delivery.”

Lecturer in the Department of Geography, Dr Cian O’Callaghan, also spoke to Trinity News about his involvement in the signing of the open letter. He pointed out that the letter “is one part of a wider set of interventions, including everyone from grassroots activists to trade unions and political parties.” He believed that this was the calling for: “A recognition that we are currently experiencing a housing crisis and the the set of policies being rolled out are, at best, inadequate.”

He noted that his own research focused on Ireland’s property crash, while also having a particular focus on housing. He concluded that: “From researching on these topics that the current policy approach to housing is replicating many of the mistakes of the past, and will ultimately exacerbate rather than remedy the current crisis.”

The letter came one week before Trinity students, alongside the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) and various other Students’ Union will take to the streets for the Raise the Roof protest outside Dáil Éireann this Wednesday. In the previous two months, Trinity students, among other housing activists have also been involved in various housing occupations across the capital.

Peter Kelly

Peter Kelly is the current Assistant Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister Law student, and a former Deputy News Editor.