Limerick Hitting the ground in Dublin, Nick Ballard, ACORN UK head organizer, and I jumped in the car with Tomas O’Loingsigh and Seamus Farrell, and we were on our way to visit with activists at the Darndale housing estate in North Dublin. The social housing complex numbered over 5000 units stretched over quite a piece of ground. We met in a former church building that was now part of the social services compound built to support the tenants that included a health center, youth area, and other programs.
There is an amazing record of tenant activism and progressive organizing in Dublin and Ireland generally, so we were getting a short course. Most recently there had been huge marches and rallies to block the privatization of water by Veolia, the French conglomerate, we know well after dealing with them all over the world. There had been an attempt to meter the water in the estates and housing units and the successful protests had stopped the project at least for now.
The story of rent surges in Dublin was less cheery news. Our friends told us that Dublin had now edged past London even and was pushing up on New York City and San Francisco for the highest rents and rent increases in the world. Unemployment was relatively low, and Ireland had emerged from much of the financial crisis, but similar to so many other countries, wages had not kept pace with rents and were soaking up every euro around. They jokingly referred to Ireland as the Cayman Islands of Europe as a tax haven for so many tech and other companies without the jobs and income to show for the wealth on paper being produced. Apple was assessed a $13 billion tax bill by the European Union, and government is joining their fight in refusing to pay. How can anyone explain that?!? A lot of housing could be build with Apple’s tax payment!
A three-hour bus ride later, and we were along the riverside in Limerick, and minutes later caught up with a group of ten involved in organizing the newly formed tenant action group in the city, including some students who were facing a sudden bump in their housing costs as well at the city’s art school. Rents were better than Dublin, and in some cases, tenants had been pushed out of Dublin because of the housing crisis there. Unfortunately, that did not mean conditions were better in many private flats or social housing situations. Protections were few, and investment in more social housing was stagnant.
A couple of the members told us of various issues in social housing. One veteran with decades in the project had seen some regeneration in her unit, but went on to describe a half-dozen huge problems from open gaps with wind coming in to black mold and worse. She had tried to downsize, partially to alleviate the huge waiting list that included her daughter, but it was a mess. After describing how ACORN worked, we ended up spending some time bouncing ideas back and forth on how tenants on the waiting list might be organized to force change.
We also went back and forth on the dilemma being faced by the students. The housing was connected to the university but managed by a private company and not owned by the school, allowing them to try to wash their hands of the problems. The increase announced after Christmas was not the usual 1 or 2% but ranged up to 15%, putting hard pressed students between a rock and a hard place. Several meetings had proven the anger, but the debate over tactics and strategy, including a rent strike, were ongoing. We offered to connect them to the ACORN group in Brighton where a strike had been won.
We’re on a crash course with more meetings in Galway and Dublin to come. These are the kind of fights and folks whom we would love to see wearing ACORN buttons on their chests and with ACORN banners flying.