VIEW editor Brian Pelan talks to Iain Duffin – a member of the tenants-led organisation CATU

Many young people in the North of Ireland and the Republic under the age of 35 have only known private renting as a way of living. The concept of state-provided housing is a rapidly diminishing memory.

Many of them who are frustrated by increasing rents, poor conditions and with the threat of evictions hanging over their heads have decided to organise and fight back.

Community Actions Tenants Union (CATU) has sprung up in recent years and has now been organised in various branches throughout the island of Ireland. Its website states “that CATU is a union for communities and tenants, that means renters, council tenants, mortgage holders and people in emergency and precarious living situations. By a union we mean you, and your fellow members coming together to combat common problems. An organisation fighting for collective gains in the homes, communities and lives of all of our members.”

VIEWdigital recently spoke to 26-year-old Iain Duffin who is a communications officer for Belfast CATU. He has a degree and a Masters in economics from his time as a student at Queen’s University Belfast.

“I got involved because housing is such an important issue. There is a whole generation now of people under 35 years of age who just can’t afford to buy a house. You’re stuck having to rent and landlords can do, more or less, whatever they want. CATU, which is not funded by any political party, gives people the ability to fight back against landlords.

“CATU is all about taking direct action. You’re constantly trying to bring the landlord to the negotiating table to try and solve the dispute between the tenant and them. There are a range of things we do such as sending a letter or an email to the landlord. We can also organise pickets if needed. It’s all about applying pressure to try and get a resolution to the dispute. I don’t think landlords are use to having pressure applied to them.

CATU Belfast members at the recent May Day parade in Belfast

“Our membership is young but it varies from branch to branch. We’ve just under 200 members in Belfast. We’re not interested in having political parties affiliated with CATU. It’s our independence which allows us to do our work. If Sinn Fein become the next Government in the Republic they will also have to be held accountable for housing issues.

“We’re similar to a workplace union where you have a yearly conference with motions from our various branches being passed. We believe in a policy of social housing where the State produces high quality homes which are affordable.

“CATU is also affiliated to a worldwide housing rights body called Acorn International.

“We would like to see lower rents but much of our campaigning is around fighting to see that repairs are carried out.

“We will definitely challenge illegal evictions. We also believe in community power. If everyone in a street was opposed to a neighbour being evicted then they might not be evicted.

“Housing is one of the most basic entities in our lives yet it’s traded for its exchange value,. It’s viewed as a commodity rather than a place where you live and where your children grow up. Many people can be evicted at a moment’s notice. Having to move home all the time is a nightmare. Many landlords think they can do what they want. I believe strongly that tenants can stand up for themselves and they can win.”

A recent post (below) from Belfast CATU on its Twitter account (@catubelfast) spelt out its demands ahead of the local council elections in Northern Ireland on Thursday. May 18.

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