Tag Archives: affordable housing

Cranes Soaring to Escape London

New Orleans  One thing that intrigued me in both England and Ireland over the last two weeks was the amount of construction in every city I visited.   These were not little small-time projects, but giant cranes building skyscrapers in most of the cities.

Manchester was out of control.  On the tram in Manchester going to the office, I looked out and could see seven or eight cranes in the distance with existing towers already in place way outside of the city center.  I asked the organizers what’s up, and they pointed behind me to the other side of the tram car, and there were another three or four right there as well.  Going into Leeds train station I counted eight cranes on the horizon of this smaller city.  Walking along my accustomed route to Bristol’s Temple Mead station in the last half kilometer, I was walking between multistory buildings going up with new construction on both sides of the street.  Sheffield almost the same thing.  Then again in Dublin, the members said there were building all over the city center.

I kept asking, “What’s happening?”  Are there new jobs or corporate relocations driving this?  The answers varied, but no one really knew.  In some places, Dublin and Sheffield particularly the fingers pointed towards construction of student housing where developers build privately for universities and cop an extra 25% on the rents to the desperate students.  In other cities, as we scratched our heads, there were no clear answers.  Land was cheaper, we speculated in the north, but that doesn’t factor enough for developers to risk millions and millions.  Most of the construction was high-end rentals or condos it seemed. The only real answer seemed to be that either there already is a mass exodus from the exorbitant cost of housing in London that is driving people elsewhere to have an opportunity to ever buy or even to rent something or that developers realize that London has become so crazy that the hordes are bound to be coming.  Either this is the biggest favor that London has inadvertently done some of the other cities or there is a huge bubble in high-end and quasi-commercial buildings.

One thing is clear from everyone.  Almost none of this is about building social housing or affordable housing so that existing residents in these cities can find decent housing.  In Dublin for example, organizers were telling me that many people are decamping from there to Glasgow because the cost of housing is cheaper there.

None of this seems sustainable or sound policy about how to grow and who to serve in growing, which seems to make a crash unavoidable.

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Please enjoy Grace Potter – Back To Me [Feat. Lucius]

Thanks to WAMF.

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Tenants and Communities Organizing in Ireland

Dublin          A change in plans pushed Tunisia off of my plane ticket and found me jumping instead from Manchester, England, to Dublin, Ireland, to meet with the officers of ACORN’s newest affiliate, CATU-Ireland or Communities and Tenants’ Union of Ireland.  Nick Ballard, head organizer of ACORN-United Kingdom and I had visited almost a year ago in February with a number of smaller tenant organizations in Dublin, Limerick, and Galway.  In December, the ACORN board voted on the request of CATU-Ireland to affiliate with ACORN, and the response was unanimous approval.

The process had been a long and winding road.  The various groups had debated whether to affiliate individually or collectively or not at all.  Tenant groups are not uncommon in Ireland, but tend to be smaller, between fifty to two-hundred activists with a looser membership, usually no dues, and never any staff.  At the same time, when threatened they have frequently been able to mobilize thousands in protests and on the street, squat for months to stop evictions and demolitions, and impact politics.  The problem as they addressed it with ACORN was the need, given the crisis of unaffordable housing, to be sustainable and develop an organization that was dues-based and would be able to field a permanent organizing and support staff.

Various delegations from Ireland, particularly in the Dublin area, had visited ACORN offices.  One group went to Bristol and Manchester for training in September.  Another group followed with a visit to the ACORN Living Rent affiliate in Glasgow.   Both came away from the trips with a conviction to go forward with an organizing drive that they then began in the Mountjoy – Dorsett neighborhood.  The former home of world-famous novelist, James Joyce, was located off the Mountjoy Square Park, and one of his short stories included St. Francis Xavier Church where CATU is considering as a site for the launch meeting of the first group.  The group has a mixture of tenants and home owners, or more accurately, mortgage holders, as CATU calls them, with issues ranging from maintenance to general services in the community.   The first launch meeting should be held by the end of February which will be the perfect cap to this year of organizing rising in Dublin.

Talking with some of the officers in a coffeehouse in Mountjoy throughout the afternoon, I could appreciate that they had felt bogged down with the registration process, getting a bank account, figuring out a way to collect dues automatically, and the usual infrastructure of a new organization.  Nonetheless, looking over the year, they had gotten there.  The first thirty members had joined.  The regular doorknocking days and weekend stalls had trained the committee and some residents sufficiently to do the job.

National elections are coming and change is in the air.  Progress is progress, and the future seems solid for CATU and ACORN in Ireland.

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