There are an estimated 1.8 billion people globally living in homelessness and grossly inadequate housing. These individuals and families typically endure stark conditions including a lack of access to basic services such as sanitation, running water, and electricity; no security of tenure; and housing that is simply unaffordable. Conditions such as these are not the result of some fault or misfortune of the people who suffer them, but rather are created and maintained by governments through their actions and inactions.
I am deeply concerned by the persistent failure of governments to recognise housing as a social good and a fundamental human right. Governments have yet to fully recognise the connections between the over-commodification of housing, which they promote in many ways, and the rising rates of homelessness and inadequate housing. Contrary to international human rights obligations, investment in housing has increasingly disconnected housing from its core social purpose of providing people with a place to live with security and dignity.
Particularly troublesome are those laws and policies that have allowed unprecedented amounts of global capital to be invested in housing as security for financial instruments that are traded on global markets, and as a means of accumulating wealth. This expanding role and new dominance of unregulated financial markets and corporations in the housing sector is now generally referred to as the ‘financialisation of housing’ and it is having devastating consequences.
In Ireland, homelessness has increased exponentially in recent years, with the number of homeless adults rising by nearly 95.9 per cent between 2015 and 2018, while levels of child homelessness grew by 227.7 per cent over the same period. The central causes of homelessness are issues related to the private rental sector. The lack of tenant protections – such as the ease with which a landlord can evict in order to sell the tenant's home or to move family members in, and, equally, the lack of long-term leases, means that tenants are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, housing insecurity and homelessness from the actions of investor landlords. Homelessness is one of the most egregious and damaging violations of the right to adequate housing.