Belfast Rental Crisis: Homes for people, not profit!

Amidst record levels of homelessness, sky-high rents and endless waitlists for housing – the construction industry and landlords are boasting about record profits. Why is it that we have more vacant properties than homeless in Northern Ireland? Róise McCann analyses the multiple crises that the housing crisis feeds into, and puts forward demands for a movement to challenge dodgy construction barons and landlords alike.

By Roise McCann

When construction begins in Belfast we know what to expect; more vast soulless spaces in the form of ridiculously priced apartments, uber-luxurious, unaffordable student accommodation or high rise tourist-trap hotels. Capitalist multinational developers are making a killing; hoarding derelict buildings and land for speculation while Northern Ireland faces the deepest housing crisis in decades. 

Private renting has become a luck of the draw as renters struggle amidst steep competition for increasingly unaffordable, too often low quality properties. ONS figures show that rent prices jumped by 8.4% in 2022, more than any region in the UK. The average private renter pays £845, significantly more than half of a full-time worker’s monthly minimum wage salary.

The social housing system offers no alternative. Around 44,000 people are currently on the Housing Executive’s waiting list. Only 835 social housing units were built in the last year and a report published last year claimed that the housing waiting list could take up to 50 years to clear. 

Housing crisis deepens

This Christmas period saw 4,000 children in emergency accommodation in Northern Ireland. Women’s refuge centres are full and more working people are faced with housing insecurity than in decades before. Issues of gender based violence, mental health and addiction continue to mount. Cuts to funding essential services to address these issues meant they were at breaking point prior to the pandemic and cost of living crisis, and now are almost entirely broken.

It’s from these crises that dodgy capitalist property developers and investors are reporting sky high profits. The firm Killultagh Holdings boasted of profits last year of £93m. With  faceless and predatory private entities such as these, calls for a return of the Stormont Executive to step in and do something are understandable. However, all the sectarian parties in Stormont have for years done what they can to ensure Northern Ireland is a hot spot for foreign investment and endless grey developments for years to come and high profits from housing. 

Our homes and lives should never be in the hands of crony capitalists and market speculation. Housing is a right. We urgently need  rent reductions and freezes in Northern Ireland.  This must be coupled with a major programme of investment into building and renovating social housing. Vacant properties and land hoarded by private developers must be taken into public hands and converted to social housing.  The big construction companies who prioritise construction projects for their own profits must be nationalised under the control of working-class people as a whole and their resources used to assist in tackling this crisis.

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