Rent Freeze (20 Days To Election)

I, like so many people, am a renter, and have been since I left home. Like many of those people, I have aspirations of home ownership, and continue to pursue options towards that end. But for the moment, I am lodged firmly in the rental market. And the rental market sucks.

Rents have been out of control in this country, and for far too long. The prices being asked for by landlords, in general, are outrageous, and things simply aren’t getting any better. In line with the cost of homes – also outrageously high – it has produced a situation where too much of peoples income is going into the simple need for a roof over their heads.

Government efforts to combat this problem – if members of the government, many of them landlords themselves, even think it is a problem – have been lacking. Rent-pressure zones were a good idea in theory, but were always full of holes as a solution, with plenty of avenues for landlords to increase rents anyway, and including an ineffective and difficult system for renters to seek redress.

What is the solution? More homes? Sure. More help for first-time-buyers? Yes. Increases to rent allowance, and laws to stop landlords from discriminating against the same? Absolutely. These are all things that we should be doing. But there is one more thing.

And that thing is recognise the renting crisis for what it is – a financial emergency for a huge portion of the population – and to step in decisively, legislatively. The solution, temporary as it should be, is for the Dail to pass laws that will legally bar landlords from raising rents any further. It’s that simple. Three years or more where landlords who attempt to raise rents are not just brought before some board connected to RPZ’s, are not able to hide behind threats of solicitors and eviction, but are in breach of the law, period, and can be reported as such.

Rent freezes have consequences, as have been widely reported with Berlin’s implementation of them. The reports are of reduced business for trades, reduced investment in property. And frankly I don’t care. Rent freezes are a radical but workable solution to a problem that is crippling the lives of people, that the government does not seem inclined to address. I’m not advocating a permanent freeze, landlords that refuse to carry out needed repairs on their properties should be legally obligated do so and maybe we should be more concerned with lowering house prices than jacking up “investment” in a market that has only seen prices increase for years.

Where do the parties stand on rent freezes? Below is a brief summation of their respective positions, with updated nods to their manifestos as they are published in this current campaign.

Fine Gael are plainly against rent freezes. Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy declared Sinn Fein’s efforts to implement one last month as “reckless” and “unconstitutional” (it wouldn’t, for the record). The common party line on the issue has been that the solution to the problem is RPZ’s and increased construction. That none of this is mutually exclusive appears to not be a consideration. In their manifesto they pledge to extend RPZ if necessary, that’s all.

Fianna Fail, as they tend to be, are happy to take both positions. They backed Sinn Fein’s rent freeze bill in December that has reached committee stage, but it was not a support that seemed very gung-ho: their housing spokesperson, Darragh O’Brien, publicly stated that the party are “not wedded” to the idea of a rent freeze. They may simply have voted for the law to advance as a thumb to the eye of Fine Gael, who were obligated to let it through the first and second stage unopposed. I would have no faith that a Fianna Fail-led government or minority government would aim to advance such plans. Their manifesto makes no mention of the idea at all.

One in three of current FG/FF TD’s is a landlord by the way. The ratio is 1 in 25 nationally.

Sinn Fein, on the other hand, are openly and plainly for a rent freeze. It is their law that is going through the slow route of the Oireachtas legislative system, and they have had a consistent position on it. Sinn Fein’s opposition to the building of housing at a local level is something that should be considered in the same breath, but the party’s position is the party’s position. Their manifestopromise is unequivocal.

Labour supported the December bill and, through Jan O’Sullivan, has expressed support for rent freezes generally, with the condition that work be done to prevent landlords increasing rent prices ahead of one. Of course, the question can be asked why they didn’t do more three years ago, messing around with the lame-duck RPZ idea when a better solution was needed. Their manifesto explicitly backs a rent freeze.

Solidarity-PBP naturally supports rent freezes in their manifesto, and they would probably go even further given the chance. Their opinions shine a light on the government policy to sell off public land to private investors who are otherwise dangerously unregulated in what they provide. Similarly Independents4Change supports rent freezes, insofar as Joan Collins voted in favour of them back in December.

The Social Democrats support a rent freeze, voted in favour in December, and have been unequivocal elsewhere. Indeed, this kind of social protection measure is really right up their alley, so I shouldn’t be too surprised. One wonders though, given their apparent haste to be part of a government, if they will stick to their stated principals. Their manifesto backs up their previous pledges.

The Greens voted for the December bill, but do not appear to have stated support for the concept of a rent freeze going by the housing policy they released in 2018 and their preferred model of “cost rental”. There is merit to a lot of their plans, but I do believe it falls short, and is one of a myriad of ways that the Irish Green Party betray leanings that would seem to be surprisingly pro-capitalism for a seemingly pro-environment group. Their manifesto prefers the idea of matching rent to local rental guides.

Aontu’s sole representative in the Dail, Peadar Toibin, voted in favour of the December bill, albeit he didn’t seem to be too fussed about it: his speech on the debate was a brief affair where he talked almost exclusively about vulture funds. Their manifesto does not mention the idea.

In essence, it would appear that every opposition group supports the idea of a rent freeze, even if the largest opposition party should not be able to engender any trust that they will follow through. Does this mean that a rent freeze is inevitable? Sadly no. The two most likely results of the coming election are for a continuation of the current government or the same with Fianna Fail in the hotseat: in either scenario, it seems likely that the rent freeze bill will get lost in committee until being summarily voted down by a suddenly constitutionally pragmatic Fianna Fail and uncaring Fine Gael.

The crisis is going to rumble on I fear. But at least in this election a message can be sent, and that is through a rejection of the party’s that continue to trust the unreliable whims of “the market” to solve their problems for them.

This entry was posted in General Election 2020, Ireland, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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