Kate Brennan Harding describes her experience of Galway’s rental market.
I have managed to move around a lot in my life. Moving house is second nature to me, really. I know how to create a home within two hours of getting the keys. I love the promise of new memories to be made and contained within four walls; the sounds of a house as you get familiar with them, the click at 6am, the clunk when heavy rain comes from the west. The way a house breathes when everyone is home. Buying new soft furnishings and discovering the local takeaways. That being said, looking for a house these days is like preparing to go into battle. House rental apps are downloaded onto the phone, letting agents are sent introductory emails with juicy information – which I hope makes us stand out from potential competition. References are prepared, and so it begins.[restrict]
I moved to east Galway in March 2020, only as a temporary measure, because my partner and her son live here in Loughrea. Faced with the pandemic and what we thought would be a couple of months to batten down the hatches, we wanted to be with each other through all the battening of hatches, of this there was no question. So Loughrea has become my pandemic home; a geographical location to place myself in a holding pattern. I have learned so much about an area of Ireland I never expected to find myself existing in. I have run 5k, made use of their magic lake for swims and had plenty of somber wistful thoughts as I look across it wondering what is my life and when will I see my friends?
There was no point in looking or even entertaining the thought of moving to Galway city this time last year. But as the pandemic took 2020 with it, my girlfriend and I spoke more and more about creating a life together in our favourite city. This move is for us all: an eight-year-old who loves Lego, Harry Potter and has a taste for fine food and Sheridan’s cheese. My fiancée has danced around Galway for most of her life, so much so that I love imagining her essence emerge from the buildings she occupied in the time before we found each other. Then there’s me, looking to plant firm roots, finally, after spending my adult life between Dublin, Cork, West Cork and Sligo. At forty, I am choosing Galway city. In a way I think a part of me always felt I would live here, where the rain hardly ever stops, but when it does it is magic.
We started looking a few months ago, whittling away at understanding the areas of Galway city that would work for our family. I had to slowly but surely let go of living in a delicious house in the city centre without a garden. I thought ‘sure who needs a garden when you have the Spanish Arch on your doorstep?’ Ehh we do… there’s an eight-year-old to consider first and foremost and so with trepidation I reminded myself that I am no longer 24, despite how I might feel inside my head.
We have been looking now for three months during a pandemic. The same houses are on Daft every single night. You know the ones – filled with pine, brown uncomfortable leather couches, priced ridiculously high with old, stained mattresses. The new houses are up and down in the blink of an eye, and herein, dear reader, lies the biggest problem. There is no regulation that truly helps those of us that exist in the rental market, we are being bled dry.
The term “running the gauntlet” comes to mind, it came from a form of corporal punishment where a person found guilty was forced to run between two rows of soldiers who strike out and attack them with sticks or other weapons. Renters are effectively running the gauntlet between landlords and the desperate housing system we have inherited. There is no solution in sight for those of us who have been previously bitten by the Celtic Tiger and negative equity. Why is it so hard to find a house to call home? Whilst our TDs create TikToks full of glee at nine new apartments being built for social housing on Dorset Street, Dublin, houses are empty up and down the country. In cities it feels like a form of punishment to even dare try and move house, let alone find a place that doesn’t take a phenomenal chunk of monthly income.
So we are running the gauntlet again. We were going to virtually view a nice three-bedroom house that had been given a lick of paint, and had some fancy tiling at the front door, enough to catch the eye and begin to dream of opening the door for dinner guests in some twinkling glitzy future I have envisioned. Once the viewing is complete and one expresses interest, you must then partake in The Hunger Games Property Challenge. ‘Dear Applicant, let the games begin. Please send a copy of your references, your bank statements, a lock of your first born’s hair, re-sit the Leaving Cert biology exam as Gaeilge, and lastly try to connect your printer to your phone via Bluetooth. Then, and only then, do you win the right to hand over one and a half times the rent as a deposit and the first month’s rent’. In our case, that amounted to five big ones. FIVE THOUSAND EURO.
We are a family of three, we are a middle income family and I have been hugely impacted by the pandemic with over 60% of my usual earnings evaporated. I realise we are like so many others in the same cycle, but by adding that extra money onto the deposit, agents and landlords are crippling people.
Did you know there’s a super bonus round of The Property Hunger Games; paid viewings of the house being advertised? Or is it a scam that seems to be growing daily on rental apps. I found a house in Renmore that looked wonderful. Little did I know I would soon be receiving Whatsapp messages telling me urgently to register via a link they sent – to what looked like a Daft.ie website. This link was to register to view the property, and for the honour of viewing it I would have to pay €85. I didn’t, but I would imagine plenty of others have, because we are desperate – all of us are desperately trying to find a home against the clock of notice.Of course I reported this scam to the website and Gardaí and there was nothing they could do.
Is there really nothing we can do but keep on expecting things to change by doing the same thing over and over again? It’s overwhelming isn’t it? I realise that I don’t have the solutions, that I don’t work in government, nor do I understand the full implications of how the property world works. But I am a grown ass woman who is experiencing the pitfalls of investor buying eating up all the available housing in areas that really need to be populated by diverse, ordinary, humans. Our cities are being cleansed of all creatives, artists, musicians – the very people who make the cities magic. It isn’t good enough to accept the sub-standard levels of housing being placed on the market at extortionate rates. No more shrugged shoulders and incompetence, no more blaming governments of ghost estates past. We are not powerless and neither are our elected representatives. Housing in Ireland is broken and the time has come for us to fix it.
I want to come home.