Victoria Stokes chats to Irish women in the rental market about how the housing crisis is affecting them
I don’t know about you but when I was younger I had a pretty clear idea about what I thought my life would look like when I was a fully-fledged adult (whatever that is). I figured I’d have my dream job (check), a significant other (check) and a top of the range BMW (eh, we can’t have it all I guess).
While some things in life fitted right into place like I had hoped they might, one thing I wasn’t expecting to be so difficult was moving into my forever home. I figured I’d get the job and the partner, save up a bit of cash and that’d be that: I’d put down a deposit, commit to a mortgage and move in.
I had visions of living in a nice, three bedroomed home – nothing too swanky, just somewhere roomy and comfortable that I could call my own. Yet here I am at 30, flat-sharing in a teeny tiny two-bedroom apartment that’s in need of repair with my dream of owning a home seeming farther away than ever.
I always figured that once I was earning a steady wage buying a house would only be a matter of knuckling down and squirrelling away the cash, instead I’ve been renting for almost five years with little hope of escape.
Figures from The National Social Monitor Report suggest that currently one in five renters in Ireland are spending 40 percent of their income on rent and one in 10 are spending over 60 percent of their income on rent. As it stands, the average rent in Dublin is now €1,620 per month and €1,122 elsewhere in the country, according to the RTB Rent Index. More and more people are now living in rented accommodation too. The 2016 Census found that renting was the tenure status for almost 30 percent of all dwellings, while home ownership had fallen sharply. And for a lot of people, while the rents continue to rise, their salaries aren’t going anywhere.
But most people renting in Ireland, especially those living in rent pressure zones like Dublin and parts of Meath and Limerick, are well aware of the facts and figures because they’re living them. They’ve seen the fierce competition for available housing, they’ve noticed the steep rise in rent and they’ve seen their disposable income strangled as a result. The crisis has forced many Irish women to live in conditions that are far from comfortable.
Joanne, 31, has been stuck sharing an apartment with her ex because she has nowhere else to go. “We moved in together two and a bit years ago but things began to sour around 18 months later. Living together brought how incompatible we actually are into sharp focus and eventually we decided it was best for the both of us to call it a day. It was his flat I had moved into so we agreed that the fairest thing was for me to move out and find somewhere else to live. I didn’t think this would be too much of a problem. I knew rents were high but I didn’t realise just how high until I started looking. I also didn’t realise how poorly maintained some properties were and how much competition I’d face. It’s been three months now since my ex and I split and I’m still here living under the same roof as him which is uncomfortable to say the least. It’s a one-bedroom apartment so we’ve been taking it in turns sleeping between the bedroom and the couch and we try our best to keep out of each other’s way. I still haven’t found somewhere suitable or within budget to move and trust me, I’ve drastically lowered my standards since I started looking. I’d say I’ve viewed around 14 properties now and many of them were tiny studios or dingy old flats.”
“Meanwhile, Ciara, is sharing a room with a stranger.
“This isn’t where I thought I’d be at 28 but I’ve had no other choice. I got offered a great job in Dublin and there was no question of me not taking it. I had heard the renting situation was bad but I was shocked to realise that until I found my feet the only option within my price range would be to share a bedroom with someone. I’m lucky because the girl I’m sharing with is really sound but obviously I have absolutely zero privacy and it’s difficult for my boyfriend to visit. It shouldn’t be this hard. I’m earning a steady wage and still I’m priced out of the majority of places.”
While Joanne and Ciara’s stories might be at the extreme end of the scale, there’s certainly a low-lying dissatisfaction among most renters and a prevailing fear of ending up ‘out on your ear’. When Niamh, 27, finally had to move out of her two-bedroom apartment, she never thought finding somewhere new to live would be such an ordeal. “When I moved to Dublin in 2015, I was paying €580 rent for a relatively roomy apartment share very central to the city centre. In just four short years, in the same general area, I’m now paying €830, for a tiny room – a €250 jump in just four years, while my wage hasn’t exactly hiked. And if paying that money each month is depressing, don’t get me started on the apartment search itself; soul-destroying is putting it lightly. If I saw a semi-decent place on rent.ie, it was either well over €1000, or available to students only. All the others on offer were, to put it simply, kips
“The vice that landlords have people in, especially young professionals on a not-so-incredible salary, is outrageous, and the only thing keeping me hopeful is that things can only get better, because it’s hard to see how much worse they could get.”
Niamh’s story is by no means an uncommon one, so what’s being done? In 2016 a rule that meant landlords could only increase the rent by four percent a year was introduced to try and cap the rate at which rents were rising in rent pressure zones. A crackdown on AirBnB lettings is set to be introduced with the hope of bringing thousands of properties back onto the long-term renting market. Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, expects this will make between 1,000 to 3,000 former short term lets available to renters in Dublin alone. Meanwhile, the government says it’s confident it’ll hit its target of building 25,000 new homes a year by 2020, but for loads of people all of this is too little too late.
“If we’re to stop things getting worse then someone needs to rapidly start building more houses because they’re in such short supply and demand is only going to increase if companies continue to move their operations to Ireland,” Ciara points out.
“Landlords need to be held to greater account too because right now renters are at their whim and it’s simply not sustainable.”