Developments: a Right to Housing
The government has committed to hosting a ‘referendum on housing’ in both the Programme for Government and Housing for All. Some progress has been made in recent months; the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has set up the Housing Commission who has been tasked with progressing this commitment. The Housing Commission hosted a conference in May which brought together housing and legal experts to present on a variety of aspects on housing rights and the right to housing. Now, they have launched a consultation and are looking for the public’s view on what should be included as part of a referendum on housing.
The Simon Communities of Ireland are campaigning for a positive referendum on housing that will result in the right to home being placed in the constitution. We are proud to be chair Home for Good; a coalition of organisations and individuals who believe that Constitutional change is an essential underpinning for any successful programme to tackle our housing and homelessness crisis.
What is a referendum?
A referendum provides an opportunity for the people of Ireland to change the constitution by vote. The Constitution of Ireland (in Irish Bunreacht Na hEireann) is a statement of fundamental values of the people of Ireland. It shapes Government policy and legislation. As our society changes and the pressures of a more globalized world are more keenly felt, it is important that we have opportunities to re-assess the constitution and ensure that it is in line with the needs of the population.
Organisations like Simon have long made the argument that a right to a home should be enshrined in the constitution. We believe that such a change can be a catalyst for positive progress for a more secure affordable housing system that provides homes and can help us to end homelessness. The ongoing housing and homelessness crisis has sharpened our awareness of an acute need for a right to housing; not having that right in our constitution can undermine our capacity to address the housing crisis.
Why do we need a right to housing?
People experiencing ongoing housing insecurity in a turbulent housing market are failed by an imbalance in our Constitution. Currently, the Constitution is fundamentally imbalanced towards private property rights, which are protected in both Article 43 and Article 40.3. There is no equivalent right to housing in the Constitution. This means that the starting point of Government policy and every legal analysis in respect of the regulation of land and property begins from the perspective of a property owner’s right. While this right may be restricted in the interests of the common good, the starting point for analysis remains the private interest, with the common good only relevant as a secondary and subjective thought.
The imbalanced Constitutional structure has proven repeatedly to fail people in need of housing. It perpetuates high levels of vacancy and dereliction across the country, it allows for land hoarding, and it has contributed to our national housing crisis.
What would a Right to Housing mean?
Including a Right to Housing in the Constitution has an enormous potential to be a catalyst for change. Including a Right to Housing in our Constitution places an onus on the State to develop and implement policy and practice that will meet the right to adequate housing of individuals and families in Ireland, and safeguard against future housing crisis’.
A right to housing in our Constitution would provide every level of Government with a guiding principle and a commitment to ensuring there are sufficient homes for all. In practical terms, this means refusing to accept endemic housing crisis in our society. It means a new level of respect for the levels of affordable housing and social housing needed. It means having sufficient levels of housing suitable for people’s needs including housing with universal design for people with disabilities, catering to the housing needs of our ageing population, and housing for small and large families alike.
How can you get involved?
Make a Submission: The Housing Commission has launched a public consultation seeking views on a Referendum on Housing in Ireland. The consultation asks submissions to consider whether there should be a constitutional amendment and if so what form it should take. This is important; we need the Housing Commission to provide wording for a referendum on the Right to Housing specifically. At present, it is unclear if this will be the case. The Simon Community will be making a submission and so will many other organisations supporting people in homelessness, with a disability, supporting older persons, women, children and so much more.
Anyone can make a submission and we implore you to do so. SCI will be making a submission as part of Home for Good in the coming weeks; keep an eye out. We have resources available to help you find out more. Do not hesitate to get in touch if you want to find out more!
Register to Vote: Any Irish Citizen over the 18 can vote in Ireland; but you must be registered to do so. You can check if you are registered by clicking here. If you are not registered, or if you recently moved address and need to vote in a new area, click here to find out more. We do not have a date for a referendum yet, but we hope to see as many people involved as possible!
Recommended Wording from Home for Good: