Mersey St residents action wins housing victory

By Jim Rutherdale, East Belfast Socialist Party Residents of Mersey Street in East Belfast won a major victory in securing much needed housing for the local community after taking direct action preventing work on building sites for several days.

This area of terraced housing situated between the Oval and the shipyard has been scene to a lot of development over recent years. The Socialist spoke to Kathy McConnell and Stephen Baine, Chair of the Mersey Street Residents Association. Kathy explained “In 2001-02, 800 substandard houses in the area were vested and knocked down. Residents were moved out and the Housing Executive promised residents they would be offered first refusal on the new builds. Only 106 new homes have been built on the site – which shows how overcrowded the original housing was. Residents were angry that local people who had been promised housing ended up with few of the new builds. People from places like Ballymena, Rathcoole, Dublin, Poland and the Ravenhill Road have been given homes. But what about local people in the community?” Kathy was keen to the point out “We are not racist. We understand people from different areas need housing in Belfast but residents in need of social housing were being ignored. This is about fighting for peoples right to housing.”

The protest which lasted two days resulted in a victory, forcing Connswater Homes and the Housing Executive to commit to making the remaining homes available for local residents.

Since Maggie Thatcher begun her policy of selling off the bulk of social housing in the 1980’s, there has been chronic underinvestment in provision of social housing. Many workers are simply having to put up with overcrowding and the stress that puts on families or living in poor quality private rentals. Privatisation of housing has led to unaffordable prices for most working class people. Landlordism and gentrification has led to the break-up of entire communities. The failure of the Assembly to achieve even it’s modest targets for constructing new social housing must be challenged. The action which brought results for Mersey Street residents shows how local communities can fight for the right to housing and is an example of how to do so. In order to solve the housing crisis the Assembly should launch a massive public housing building programme to provide quality housing and well-paid, direct employment for construction workers across Northern Ireland.

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