Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of Rebecca MoynihanRebecca Moynihan (Labour)

The Labour Party has been wholeheartedly in favour of a constitutional right to housing, along with other socioeconomic rights, for a number of years. Driving socioeconomic rights, including the right to a home in the Constitution, would make a difference to people but it would not solve all of the problems. It would not end the housing crisis overnight and it would not be a silver bullet. However, it can make a significant difference.

Introducing a constitutional right to housing is a policy direction for the Government and courts, and this is the effect of it. Time and again in recent years, particularly when it comes to issues such as renters' rights, we have heard there has to be a balance between renters and landlords. This in itself is a policy choice. I credit Home for Good and those involved in that campaign for coming up with the wording. Many of them argues, as do constitutional scholars, that a constitutional impediment against good progress housing policy does not exist. This is based on court decisions on very specific circumstances from 50 years ago. That is not to say we are not in favour of this proposal but it is important to put it in that context.

Most people think of a constitutional right to housing as using public land exclusively to build public homes. They think about the State following what the ESRI said, which is to double capital expenditure and to be a significant player in the housing market rather than simply trying to incentivise investors to enter the social housing market and housing market, with ambitious building programmes not relying on investment funds and developer and investor pals.These are policy choices and that will continue to be the case if and when we have this constitutional right to housing.

We have seen in recent weeks the Government putting below-market discount rather than affordability at the heart of the Affordable Housing Bill. We have seen the Government failing to consider apartments as homes. We have seen it failing to protect people who live in inner city neighbourhoods and city neighbourhoods from investment funds. We have seen it introduce the profit motive to cost rental and fail to take on board the Opposition's affordability concerns. These are policy choices. Time and again, we have had policy choices that include the commodification of social housing, failing to give renters long-term security of tenure, gentrifying places in the inner city and forcing single people out of cities due to high rents and exorbitant house prices.

The Labour Party wholeheartedly supports the right to housing in the Constitution. However, we need to make sure we have the policy choices and laws to be able to back up and vindicate people's rights to housing and housing standards, long leases and a decent standard of living quality for an affordable price linked to their income and not just below-market rents.

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