Commentary | Housing Crisis? Make sure to follow the proper procedures... | PPR

Housing Crisis? Make sure to follow the proper procedures...

Families are refusing to conform with procedures designed to contain a crisis rather than address it Seán Mac Bradaigh  |  Mon Dec 11 2023
Housing Crisis? Make sure to follow the proper procedures...

Every week, homeless families and people in housing stress come to PPR’s organising team to ask for help. Usually it’s because they have tried everything and found that they have nowhere else to turn. They followed the ‘proper procedures’ when their rogue landlords laughed at the law and public authorities denied their rights with impunity.

PPR is not a casework organisation. There are hundreds of dedicated workers who are fighting an uphill battle for the ‘clients’ in their massive ‘caseloads’. Their story is another indictment on our broken housing system.

We support people to make human rights based complaints as part of our organising strategy. Much like the trade union movement organises with workers to demand their labour rights, we organise with the homeless to demand their housing rights, using every legitimate and effective tactic available.

We started doing this when Nelson McCausland was Minister for Housing and used his resources to deny the existence of religious inequality in social housing provision in North Belfast. It made little sense to follow ‘proper procedures’, when the Minister for Social Housing himself was calling the United Nations Special Rapporteur for housing a ‘Marxist Brazil Nut’.

Every family’s story, every complaint, was the truth behind the lies and tested the legitimacy of the complaints processes offered by local authorities.

It is a massive and brave step for a family, who are struggling to put a safe roof over their heads, to take on these powerful institutions in this way. When they do, they are often intimidated or humiliated. They are told that they are not following the proper procedures. They are told to get back inside the box that has been created to contain our housing crisis. Stormont departments and public authorities have teams of well paid lawyers and savvy spin doctors to deploy. What do homeless people have?

Power is not comfortable with this approach and our founder, Inez McCormack always reminded us; that’s how we can be certain we are doing something right.

Yet, when a family rejects the ‘proper procedures’ to claim their rights - making a formal complaint about the Chief Executive, bypassing the front line workers who have no power, sharing the evidence on social and mainstream media, activating public interest litigation, publishing the state response, or taking part in peaceful protest and direct actions to make sure their story is heard – change starts to happen. Power is not comfortable with this approach and our founder, Inez McCormack always reminded us; that’s how we can be certain we are doing something right.

A tweet displaying a room full of people filling in housing rights complaints
Image caption: PPR have supported people to assert their housing rights since 2006, including the development of a housing rights app as an organising tool in 2019

This year we have supported over 80 families in greater Belfast, experiencing difficulties with points and allocations, building accessibility, overcrowding, damp, mould, sewage, cold, intimidation, facilities, evictions - the list goes on – to become human rights monitors. They are transforming the tragedy of their stories into human rights based tools to fight for their family and campaign for systemic change for their community. And they have helped communities in Dublin and Cork to replicate this model.

A Broken System

These brave families are the human rights activists of the Take Back the City and Kind Economy campaigns and here are just a few of their stories, anonymised to protect their privacy:

“Being made homeless so suddenly was extremely stressful in itself but added to the fact we are miles away from our family support network, living in one room with no cooking or washing facilities and we now have to travel miles every day (which is costing me up to £80 a week in fuel) is having a massive impact on my already deteriorating mental health. I cannot afford to feed my family on take away food every day or that amount of money for fuel”. - Seána, mum of 4 living in hotel

“I am homeless and I have three children with complex medical needs. My relationship has broken down. I was served a notice to quit by my landlord and I currently live with my mother. Two of my children share the box room and I sleep on the settee with my youngest.” - Emma, mum of 3

“We have been officially homeless for over 7 years… I’m currently living in a 2-bedroom house with my four children.” - Jane, mum of 4

“I live in a hotel. For months now, the sewage has been coming up through baths and the basins. Sometimes it overflows onto the floors. They have not come to clean the carpet properly. The smell is terrible.” - Abdul

A tweet displaying cracks and damp on housing wall and ceiling which was directed at local politicians and Mears Group CEO
Image caption: Families have bypassed broken reporting mechanisms and directly sought accountability of decision makers responsible for the provision of housing rights

“…Mum had dementia. She passed away in the autumn. Now the Housing Executive are trying to evict me from our family home, but I need a home for my children to come home to when they stay with me. As you can appreciate the stress and grief of losing both parents as well as the other troubles are causing mental and physical harm to my health.” - Paul

“I moved into this property, which had a blocked toilet, blocked drains and broken shower, in desperation. I hoped that the Housing Executive would carry out the promised appropriate repairs and upgrades. I am still waiting.” - Seamus, living in unhealthy conditions and receiving dialysis treatment

“I have received an eviction notice from MEARS to leave on the 16th of November. I received this notice on the 10th of October. I have been given no alternative accommodation. I asked The Housing Executive what I should do, and they told me to find storage for my things and to bring any essential items with me and my son and come to the Housing Executive office on the day of my eviction. This is terrifying to me.” - Aamira, single mum with a 3 year old boy

“Susie suffers from a debilitating range of physical and mental health conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease and Depression… we have spent many hours working to provide evidence and personal testimony to multiple staff. In recent weeks we have began to receive ‘multiple offers’. However, each and every offer has been for inappropriate accommodation, which Susie cannot access due to her well evidenced disabilities.” - Karen, a carer

Support Us!

In 2024 PPR will be holding more campaign organising clinics and we need support particularly from advice workers and lawyers – if you can help in any way please contact us on

There are 5,000 children who are officially homeless in Belfast.

You can support the development of housing on public land by supporting our Re-zone Mackies! campaign here.