Overcrowding and the Pandemic: Members’ Statement

Overcrowding and the Pandemic: Members’ Statement

A cartoon by Thomas Fitzpatrick which first appeared in The Leprechaun in August 1911 (Image: The Leprachaun, NLI)

The below is written by several members of Brazilian Left Front (BLF); an organisation of Brazilians living in Ireland with progressive social and economic views; who are also members of CATU. They were asked to participate in an RTÉ Investigates special on overcrowding in housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is their perspective on how they were presented on the programme as victims and not as organised tenants, and the potential issues with any new bills to address overcrowding. The original statement of BLF that this reproduces can be read here. Note that after the initial publication of this statement, the reporter from RTÉ got in contact with the authors to apologise. 

The recent RTÉ investigation revealed the reality of international English students in the Irish rental market to broader Irish society. It was very important in the sense of starting a broad discussion on the subject, and it is in this spirit that we would like to address some issues in regards to this news piece.

On the 30th of October BLF was contacted by email and on our Facebook page by an RTÉ journalist investigating overcrowding accommodation during the Covid-19 Pandemic. We agreed to talk to him and our member, Juliana Sassi, was interviewed in the programme. She went there as BLF’s spokesperson but this fact was not mentioned. On the other hand, all the other people contacted due to their work and experience had their affiliations mentioned. This fact suggests that our knowledge as people from a grassroots group wasn’t relevant, our knowledge as those who experience and fight for better housing conditions wasn’t relevant. We weren’t the experts, we were just the poor victims, without agency – something Juliana had written about in an essay published in the Irish Journal of Sociology. Juliana, as well as the other Brazilians interviewed, Carine Queiroz and Lucas Zárate, were also members of CATU. This fact is important to mention because it is due to their understanding of how bad the housing situation is in Ireland, and their conviction that it is wrong and things need to change, that they accepted to participate in the programme. Many others in this situation would not participate due to the high level of exposure of a national programme. The feeling we had after watching the programme and processing the information was that BLF was just used to fill a previously established narrative, and our members were treated as more exploited Brazilians, not as people who are also organised and went there on behalf of a group.

What was at stake though was the need to push for the Fianna Fáil Overcrowded Housing Bill. The following day, a spokesperson for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said the programme demonstrated the “very real need” to increase inspections and to ensure regulations were complied with. It was also said that funding for inspections would be increased to €10 million next year. The feeling of the need to implement the Bill was repeated extensively on experts’ social media platforms in the following days. For those who are interested in listening to our view on the matter, it is important to consider when pressing for this Bill that people do not live in overcrowded and low standard accommodations out of choice, but because that is what they can afford in Dublin. The government cannot sort out overcrowding by making more people homeless. That is why we believe that this bill must consider this unless it wants to do more harm than good. To avoid that taxpayers’ money is spent on inspections that will lead to the eviction of people and fines for a handful of small landlords, we ask the following to be considered:

Making available empty and abandoned buildings for housing purposes, building social housing, maintaining social housing that already exists (social housing being neglected and left without maintenance leads to the idea that it is something socially undesirable), building really affordable houses, putting in place rent caps following the example of other European cities, legalising squatting, regulating co-living and global corporate landlords.

In Brazil, it is possible to claim property rights if you live in an abandoned building for more than 5 years. It is legally permissible due to the fact that the law recognises a property should have social use and utility. We may have forgotten, but houses exist for use.

Keep in mind: people do not live in overcrowded, low standard, and dangerous conditions because they want, but because they need to. Housing is a human need. Profit is not.