(An edited version of this article was previously published in GCN Magazine. You can find that version here).
Gay or straight, all landlords should be abolished.
Queer and trans people have a proud history of fighting for radical new models of housing, against gentrification and for inclusive community spaces. Continuing this tradition, a LGBTQ+ caucus has recently been established within the Community Action Tenants Union (CATU). The caucus will also ensure that the voices of queer and trans people are represented within efforts to address the housing crisis. Below we, as members of the caucus, set out our perspective on the housing crisis and what needs to be done about it.
The housing crisis has a massive and destructive impact on queer and trans people and on the life of our community. Issues we have experienced ourselves or encountered as CATU organisers include discrimination and harassment from homophobic and transphobic landlords and letting agents, the inability to move out of oppressive family homes and harassment and violence in emergency accommodation. Trans people, in particular, are more likely to have difficulty finding employment, be unable to cover the cost of sky-rocketing rents and to end up in precarious housing and homelessness. There are also the intolerable and dangerous housing conditions faced by queer and trans asylum seekers living in the inhumane Direct Provision system.
In fact, the dominant housing model in Ireland has always had an oppressive effect on queer and trans people. For example, the urban geographer Ruth McManus has written about how, in the early 20th century, the Southern state’s policy of promoting privately owned suburban housing was supported by the church as a means to reinforce the traditional, heterosexual family. In contrast, the shared spaces and social mixing associated with urban public housing were seen as a breeding ground for promiscuity and sinfulness (read homosexuality) as well as for radical politics.
The sole government response to the current housing crisis has been to continue to promote private homeownership. This continues to exclude queer people because for anyone in a non-heteronormative relationship without the benefit of two incomes the chances of getting a mortgage are even more remote (alongside many other specific challenges to accessing decent, long-term housing). Queer people are further excluded because family wealth is the primary route to homeownership, either by living with parents while trying to scrape together a deposit or by being given a lump sum. However, queer and trans people are more likely to be alienated from their families, not have access to such intergenerational wealth and be unable to “ask the bank of mam and dad” as Leo would have it. This is obviously the same system that also excludes anyone from a working-class family from access to secure housing, which highlights the common interests amongst all those affected by the housing crisis.
A further consequence of the housing crisis is the loss of valuable community spaces where queer people who are unwelcome in mainstream cultural spaces have come together to create a culture and community. Early 2021 saw the loss of Jigsaw in Dublin, a venue which had been used for countless events by a range of queer and trans community groups. Across Ireland such spaces are being systematically eradicated to make way for sterile hotels and build-to-rent apartment complexes.
In response to these issues, we need a strong and united coalition of groups affected by the housing crisis and austerity. We have set up the LGBTQ+ caucus within CATU to begin building this coalition and to allow us to develop links with other queer community groups interested in these issues. The first action taken by the caucus was to support the boycott of the Irish Times called for by the Trans Writers Union. In our statement on the boycott, we noted that the transphobia pushed by the Irish Times contributes to the discrimination faced by our members in accessing housing as well as to the harassment and violence we face in our communities and public spaces.
We believe that to address the impact of the housing crisis on queer and trans people we need universal public housing and an end to the commodification of housing and the city. We see no value in a more ‘diverse’ housing system where LGBT people can be landlords too. There’s no pride in being evicted by a queer landlord! Likewise, we reject predatory banks and letting agents flying rainbow flags or a future where landlords undergo diversity training and get our pronouns right, but where we are still forced to work ourselves to the bone to pay the rent. The transphobia and homophobia of landlords and letting agents is a symptom of the enormous power over our lives granted to them by the housing crisis which allows them to act with impunity, but the underlying problem is the power of landlords and the capitalist housing system. Our full emancipation will only be achieved through overturning this system. Whether gay or straight, we think all landlords should be treated the same. They should all be abolished!
Such ambitious objectives will only be achieved through mass organisation of tenants and working-class communities, which is precisely CATU’s objective. In the last two years CATU has grown to over 1,500 members around the country. We believe in collective direct action to directly confront those responsible for the problems we face. Change can only happen when we take action together. If you want to get involved, you can sign up here: catuireland.org/join