Ashley Makombe talks to those in the rental market about the struggle to find a home…
Life has been tough for many over the course of the past year. However, the ongoing rental crisis, on the back of the global pandemic, has left people across the country feeling particularly vulnerable. Rent costs have more than doubled over the last ten years, with the average monthly rent now sitting at €1,443 despite the slight price drop due to Covid. In May, the ERSI reported that the current generation of young people is the first generation in the history of the state to be financially worse off than their parents.
While these are numbers that the general public have been made well aware of, the constant flow of statistics relating to the various rent crises means that often we forget that there are real people at the ends of those numbers.
Lauren moved to Dublin from Westmeath as a student when she was 19 and has been living here ever since. “The family that I lived with at first were super nice. They would alway ask if I was okay or if I wanted to sit and have a glass of wine with them, but it wasn’t my own place,” she says.
Since Lauren first moved up to Dublin, rents have increased dramatically, and it is getting harder and harder to find a place, any kind of place, never mind a good one.
“When you look at houses on Daft.ie, and they have thousands and thousands of views, you just think to yourself ‘how will I ever compete with all these people’,” Lauren says. “It’s kind of disheartening. It was bad before Covid, but since lockdown it’s definitely gotten worse”.
Blessing, who is 21 years old, came out of homelessness in October 2020. “I was just looking for anywhere that would take homeless HAP (house assistance payment). I tried everywhere, Daft, Rent.ie, rent accommodation facebook pages…”
Blessing explained that while HAP has made it possible for her to get accommodation, the legal loopholes prolonged the process, leaving her in limbo for months. “It’s not been an easy journey. It isn’t mandatory for landlords to accept tenants on HAP, so it’s kind of a chasing game to figure out which landlords accept HAP, and which ones don’t. And that’s not even considering the other barriers of being a Black woman, being a student, having a disability, being 21 and not having an income”.
Blessing lost her job a few months before the pandemic, so when we went into lockdown she wasn’t eligible for any PUP payments, but as a student she couldn’t claim regular social welfare payment.
“It’s not even that I’m picky (in terms of getting a job),” she says, “but because of my illness and my disability, it’s hard to find and hold down a job that will make accommodations for me.”
Dani is currently living in Kildare after losing her Dublin accommodation during lockdown. “I found this place last minute. I knew the landlord would be selling soon and it was only ever meant to be temporary. Now I’m trying to find a place in Dublin again, but it feels impossible,” says Dani.
Dani, who is also on HAP, said that she doesn’t disclose that she is on HAP until she gets a viewing as nine times out of 10 she wouldn’t get a response.
“The first time I went on HAP was four years ago, and the only way that I managed to get accommodation was by not saying anything about HAP until I was given the keys. The place before where I ended up, I had actually paid my deposit and was on the way to sign the lease and get the keys, but when I handed over the HAP forms I was told no way and my deposit was refunded, which was illegal.”
Conor has been renting in Dublin for the last few months and says his experience hasn’t been very pleasant.
“The company we rent with has been terrible in terms of answering calls or returning calls. We think they recognise our number based on the amount of times we have had to call them, but we feel as if they purposely don’t pick up the phone.
One of the few times I managed to get through to them I had borrowed a friend’s phone which they obviously didn’t recognise, it rang through and they picked up almost immediately”.
Conor said that trying to get in contact with the company to have work done on the apartment is next to impossible. “We had issues with the bathroom recently, and when we called the plumber the letting agent gave us, we got an earful from the plumbing company saying we shouldn’t contact them directly even though the letting agents told us to do so”.
While finding a place is hard enough, Conor, Dani, Lauren and Blessing all observed that the state of many of the houses available are not up to standard. At a recent viewing, Dani recalls being shocked at what she saw.
“I went to a place about two weeks ago which was advertised as a two-bed, and it looked like one of those stereotypical drug dens that you see in movies. And this was just the hallways up to the apartment.
“When you got to the actual apartment, there was builders tape all around the front door and inside, to keep the draft out. The landlord had converted what was originally one large room into a two bedroom, but he wanted €1300 per month for it,” Dani describes.
Dani had also gone to see another apartment recently in a complex with 100 other apartments. All 100 units were sharing the one washer and dryer in a shed at the back of the building, which used specific tokens you had to buy from the letting agent.
“It was disgusting. If you dropped anything taking it out of the washing machine you’d actually just have to wash it again,” she recalls.
Dani explained that she feels like she is at more of a disadvantage than most when it comes to the current renting crisis.
“A lot of people, especially if you’re an ethnic minority, lack more support when it comes to homelessness in comparison to white Irish people. A lot of white Irish people here have families that can help them out, they can stay in a family member’s house, maybe their parents or their grandparents house gets passed on to them. Whereas I have no family connection, no cousins, no grandparents, so if anything happens to me right now I’m homeless straight away. And even if a white person does become homeless the way white homeless people and homeless people of colour get treated is not the same,” she says.
Dani said she can’t even begin to picture herself owning property in Ireland. “Unless I win the lotto, I don’t see it happening.”
When asked if they ever saw themselves owning their own property in Ireland, none of the people I spoke to seemed hopeful, and all of them expressed an interest or desire in emigrating in the future.
“I have my final year of college next year, so I’m probably going to look towards Canada for a bit,” said Lauren. “It’s hard because everywhere is having a bit of a housing crisis at the moment but it feels like anywhere is better than Ireland, which is quite heartbreaking. It’s hard to imagine ever living here permanently, even though I would love to.”
Conor feels that without a shadow of a doubt he will emigrate once he’s in a position to do so. “All my friends who have emigrated are a lot happier in America, Canada and Australia than when they were here. There’s just so many more opportunities for them outside of Ireland,” he explains.
The housing crisis, compounded by the pandemic and lockdown after lockdown, mean huge parts of an entire generation have been left feeling hopeless. Without any signs of drastic change to the housing market anytime soon, much like the 2008 economic crash, we are very likely to see many young people leave the country in hopes of a better, more affordable life.