Questions on housing: What does housing mean to us?

Roisin O’Donnell

28th of September 2021


As we analyse the Government’s recent plan to address the housing crisis, this three part series aims to consider what questions are worth asking ourselves surrounding housing, and why.


Recent debates highlight the contested nature of approaches to the supply and financing of housing. Significant media and public attention has been given to issues such as the proportion of social, affordable and private housing to be built on public land; the role of the Land Development Agency; the financing of future plans; and what role private-equity funds should play. The supply of housing remains particularly important. Sinn Féin’s Eoin O Broin, asserts that if Sinn Féin got the opportunity to implement their housing plan, it would result in the large-scale building of social and affordable homes on public land. Professor of Economics in Trinity College, PJ Drudy, argues, in the Irish Times, that the new strategy must be ‘underpinned by a new philosophy which provides a central role for the Government…in the supply of housing’. He stresses the critical importance of a shift away from the current reliance on the private rented sector, limiting the role of ‘multinational landlords’ and expansion of a cost-rental model of public housing. The arguments outlined by Eoin O’Broin, PJ Drudy, and other politicians, commentators and activists, are becoming more mainstream, now considered a pragmatic response to an entrenched crisis.


Clearly, a coherent and long-term plan for the supply of housing is essential. Still, the highly centralised, top-down approach to the supply of social and affordable housing is often framed as the only alternative to the fragmented, failing and investor-driven existing system. But are there alternative means of producing, organising and owning housing? It is important to highlight the groups, organisations, artists and individuals who are currently imagining and advocating for an exciting variety of ways to build, own and occupy spaces in Ireland.


What does housing mean to us? 

What is home? What makes us feel “at home” in certain spaces? Has anyone ever asked you what kind of space you want to live in? Dr. Michael Byrne, a housing academic and activist, believes that establishing answers to these fundamental questions is important. Many people and families now live in the private rented sector long-term. His research highlights the impact of living in the private rented sector on people’s sense of security and control–both critical in creating “a sense of home”–as a result of an inability to physically shape homes, own pets, poor quality spaces and the abuse of power by some landlords.



“What should social and affordable housing be like if it is to meet people’s different needs? For what kind of person, family and life will it be designed?


The private rented sector fails to provide a secure and safe place in which people can flourish. So, what should social and affordable housing be like if it is to meet people’s different needs? For what kind of person, family and life will it be designed? Groups and organisations engage with these kinds of questions, using their answers to plan and construct housing they need and want. Housing, and the solutions we require, can be highly technical; spanning aspects of EU law and the complex structures of finance. The groups, organisations and individuals profiled below demonstrate that we can determine the spaces we live in, including their financing, ownership and management.


The question of how to meet people’s various needs also raises the issue of access to non-housing spaces, especially in cities. It’s crucial to interrogate the current narrative around the inevitability of change. The idea that Dublin, and cities in general, have been changed irrevocably by the pandemic has been a recurring theme in the media. But as restrictions ease, the question is also what has stayed the same. Change is not inevitable. The aftermath of the Global Financial Crash and the high levels of vacancy that resulted in Dublin, produced a temporary increase in access to space for ‘non-commercial cultural uses’.


But now research reveals how ‘policies introduced to support temporary use have been too weak, and subservient to Dublin City Council’s support of the commercial property market’. The adaptations we have seen in cities over the last year–pedestrianisation, more bike lanes–do not not necessarily reflect a significant shift in policy. If access to public and community spaces is something we believe people living in cities deserve, then the transparency of and access to decision-making at the level of local and regional government remains crucial.


Stay tuned for part two and three of this series.



This article was supported by: STAND Business and Politics Editor Sean


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