The history and literature of Ireland is replete with stories of homelessness and dispossession – from the Vikings sacking the monasteries to Cromwell’s cry of ‘to Hell or to Connacht’; to the great Irish court poets like Ó Rathallaigh being reduced to wandering vagrants in the 17th century – or the Great Famine and its huge devastation.
We are in the midst of another crisis of homelessness and dispossession but this one involves no war.
This time it has been a slow subtle pressure boiler, a story of neglect, hardly noticeable at first, but with terrible consequences.
And the problem this time is that it’s something that can’t be repaired overnight.
For the first 80 years of the State, there was adequate provision of social housing. Most of it took the form of vast council estates, especially in Dublin in Cabra or Crumlin or Finglas or Ballyfermot, or more recently further out in Tallaght and Clondalkin and Coolock and West Finglas.
You see them too in Galway and other cities, the older estates closer to the centre (most now gentrified); the newer estates (some on the cusp of being gentrified) further out.
But over the past decade all of that stopped. That was due to the recession but there were other factors at play, which we will come to. If we look at social housing activity in Dublin, that becomes clear.
There were almost 3,400 houses built across Dublin over the four years between 2007 and 2011 – nothing to crow about but it was something. However between 2011 and 2015 that figure plummeted to just 338.
To compound the problem, there was no building going on elsewhere. During the height of the boom upwards of 25,000 houses were being build. That fell down to just over 2,000 during the recession.
As we have seen with ghost estates, there was gross overbuilding in many parts of the country as people got high on the Kook Aid of never-ending growth. There were places where houses should never have been built, even if prosperity had continued.
And so when demand started returning it was uneven. There was zero demand in many places around the country but growing demand in Dublin and other urban centres where the recovery was beginning to take seed.
But the economy had taken such a battering during the recession that developers found it hard to get finance to build larger developments like housing estates.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.