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Country in crisis: Falling between the bureaucratic housing cracks

By October 23, 2021No Comments

What happens when you and your family have fallen between the bureaucratic gaps in the housing crisis, by Emma Dwyer

Recently I ticked one off the bucket list. I talked to Joe. Jooooeee Duffy. Because my family and I have fallen between the bureaucratic gaps in the housing crisis.


We earn too much for any government support and too little for the banks to finance us. It was a topic that came up on RTE Radio One’s afternoon chat show Live Line and I had to ring in. 

As I explained to my now pal Mr Joe Duffy, on air with a trembling voice, we are a family of four; two adults, two very small people. We have one stable income, a chunk of savings – enough for a deposit on a house – and another steady enough freelance income. Our household earnings place us just above the threshold for HAP or social housing. Our rent is higher than a mortgage repayment would be if we could get a mortgage, we have never missed a payment and continue to put away monthly savings. We both have good credit ratings. But we have been refused by multiple banks and mortgage brokers. We applied to the Rebuilding Ireland scheme – the government’s mortgage scheme for low income families who don’t qualify for social housing. But we got rejected because our income is too low. In Joe’s words, it’s

The gap is a bureaucratic one. My income cannot be considered for a mortgage or rebuilding Ireland until I have three years, or two years, accounts, respectively. However in the interim it brings us above the income threshold for any other support. Even more frustrating, Social Housing applications take social welfare payments into consideration but the banks don’t… what the actual. So we’re tipped over the social housing threshold for having had maternity benefit income but fall short in the bank’s calculations because that doesn’t count.

This isn’t a pity party. We are very lucky to have a rental situation that is affordable. I feel privileged to have been able to be at home to take care of my babies. But it has a time limit on it; it’s an agreed temporary rental. What happens when our landlord needs the house back? Do we start the whole process of paperwork again in the hopes that the goalposts haven’t been moved just out of our reach again? What are my options? What are the options for the 100s, 1000s of families like us; earning but in the ‘low income’ bracket, stuck renting in a country that is relatively new to the idea of long term rental? 

Option A is to have two secure incomes. This assumes a nuclear family. This requires both parents to be living together and to spend a sizable chunk of one of those incomes paying to outsource childcare. Again, I am lucky to have freelance income. I have chosen to take care of my children most of the time myself. I have outsourced some paid childcare and am making it work by working all the hours in a given day and weekends when my partner can help out. For now I want to prioritise caring for my children but feel very much like I need a job to secure our future.  

Option B is to secure a cost rental. This is a government initiative, a new form of long-term home rental which is supported by the Department of Housing, Local Government, and Heritage. Approval has been given to three Affordable Housing bodies, Clúid, Respond and Tuath, for a total of 390 cost rental homes this year. To be eligible your net household income has to be below €53,000 a year but not too low; I calculated it as above €41,000 to meet the percentage requirements they have. They recently opened and then very quickly closed applications for their cost rental properties in Stepaside and Balbriggan, Co Dublin. We applied and got an email to say they would use a random selection to allocate the properties. This was basically the lottery with a prize of a two-bed apartment for €1,200 a month. Like so many times playing the lotto, we didn’t win. 

These cost rentals are one of the key solutions put forward in the government’s €40 billion Housing for All plan. By 2030 the government has a target of providing 312,000 new homes. Per year the government aims to build 10,000 social housing units, 4,000 homes for affordable purchase, 2,000 cost-rental homes and 17,000 private homes. There is also the introduction of a shared equity scheme which for first-time buyers on private developments will see the State take up to a 30pc stake. Buyers will take out a mortgage with a bank for the remainder of the cost. This all sounds great but there’s speculation that this plan will further fuel house prices increasing. Central bank, the ESRI and some cabinet ministers questioned this plan. If they don’t have faith, who can?

With this plan, the priority is to get building: bob the builder, can he fix it?! According to the CSO, at the last census in 2016 there were 245,460 vacant habitable properties around the country, not to mention derelict buildings, spaces above shops, or the top floors of Georgian buildings in our cities that don’t have fire escapes and are so deemed inhabitable. There were over 60,000 holiday homes vacant at the time of the last census and there are just over 60,000 households on the social housing waiting list. I mean I might be verging on radical socialism here but simple maths tells me there’s something seriously wrong with those figures. The Housing for All plan doesn’t include plans for a tax on vacant properties. The plan includes a vacant-site levy instead.  

Let’s go off grid for a minute and consider option C: Community-Led Housing. There is very little infrastructure in Ireland for this but I did find Self Organised Architecture who have put together resources and case studies on Co-housing is not buying and it’s not renting. Housing isn’t seen as a commodity to buy and sell for profit. Instead you have shares in a company that owns the houses in a long term sustainable housing solution. In Ireland we have some successful co-housing models, including Common Ground, Nimble Spaces, Hope and Homes, and Cloughjordan Eco Village. There are a few other organisations that are currently working towards building community housing, including Arthouse. Arthouse was set up to find co-housing solutions for arts workers and their families. THAT’S ME, I thought. I chatted to their administrator and she explained things are in flux, families have moved on, or moved out, and the process of securing land, finance, and/or support from the government is a constant battle. But they’re meeting this October and I hope to hear more from them soon.

What it boils down to is long term rental – either private or cost rental – or get two incomes. But like I asked Joe – will we actually be guaranteed a mortgage even then? If I got a job at the market rate at the moment for my industry and if we paid current market rental as well as full time childcare, the maths would mean we would actually be in a similar position to what we’re in now, maybe even worse off, so would we even qualify for a mortgage? Queue sharp intake of breath, nhyeah, nhyeah, nhyeah. I’ll go off and buy my lotto ticket now. I’ll even be cringe and ask the person working in the shop to sell me the winning one.