As rents sore we need emergency action on

By Roise McCann

THE cost of surviving is heightening before our eyes while wages remain stagnant. The cost of fuel, gas,
electric and food prices have shot up and rent costs are no exception. In Belfast, rent prices have risen by 5.6% in the last year, with the average rent being £790 a month. In areas such as Ards and North Down, rents have risen by as much as 9.1%. Northern Ireland is now seeing rent increase at the fastest
rate of any “UK region.”

Of course, it is working class people that bear the brunt of this cost of surviving the crisis. Low income households are hit the hardest as working class people pay a disproportionate amount of their income on rent and utility expenses. More than 50,000 households in Northern Ireland pay more than 25% of
their income on rent and as many as 20,000 are paying more than 40%. Figures from the UK show that increasingly the latter figure is becoming the norm for renters, with the figure rising to over 50% including bills.

With Northern Ireland having the lowest housing fitness standards in the UK; renters in NI face paying soaring energy bills to heat properties with ineffective heating systems and poor insulation. Going further into this crisis, many will struggle to keep a roof over their heads and many more are forced to make the desperate choice between heating or eating.

No faith in Stormont establishment
In an apparent attempt to tackle rising costs, the Northern Irish executive made one-off payments of £200 to households on specific benefits and frozen rents on 84,000 properties for the years 2022-23. Deirdre Hargey, MLA for Sinn Fein, larping as a progressive party, urged MLAs to vote down an
amendment to legislation which would see a cut of 10% in rents for private renters.

The capitalist housing market is rooted in endless profiteering, even during periods of economic crisis. Access to housing is a right that is threatened under the capitalist model which cannot provide for the needs of people. It means that renters are forced to engage in the lottery of house and flat viewings and
pay extortionate rents for substandard properties. It is this nonsensical system which allows for over 20,000 houses to lie empty in Northern Ireland while those who are homeless and seeking
temporary accommodation has spiked by 74% in the last three years.

It is not enough to throw a pitiful one-off payment at the problem and temporarily freeze already too-high
rents. What is needed is a coordinated movement of tenants, workers, young people and trades unions to build and fight for more than the Stormont government is willing to cede. This includes immediate introduction of rent controls to bring down prices and investment into affordable public housing on public
land to ensure housing for all, regardless of income. It also must include taking into public ownership properties which lie vacant and hoarded land used for constant profiteering while unhoused people lie on streets and workers struggle to keep the lights on.

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