From top: Minister for Housing, Planning & Local Government, Eoghan Murphy with Minister of State at the Department of Health Catherine Byrne arriving at Richmond Barracks, St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore before Mr Murphy announced redevelopment proposals of Council lands at Emmet Road opposed by Ms Byrne, who is also a local TD; Anne Marie McNally
If you were to take a poll right now of the number one issue that, in some way or another, touches almost everyone’s lives, it would likely be housing.
Be it the young student or worker who is anxious to leave home but cant. Be it the parent of those adult children who watch helplessly as their children are denied the opportunity to fly the nest.
Be it the families trapped in unsustainable mortgages or be it the many people – singles and families who are renting at exorbitant cost and never finding themselves with the luxury of being able to save for a deposit to secure a mortgage which their rental amounts would easily cover, and then some.
When I canvass, housing is the number one issue that always rears its head. Even financially comfortable families are concerned about what percentage of their young adult children’s salaries will be spent on housing when they, or indeed if they can, leave home.
The traditional Irish attitude to housing has always dripped with the heavy narrative of ‘getting a foot onto the property ladder’. For many property boom purchasers, that tentative step onto that ladder pulled them into a vicious cycle of debt and despair that they are still reeling from.
But for many others, that bottom rung is now so far out of reach that it may as well be up there on ‘Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.
If you’re renting right now, unless you’re sharing with 15 others tenement style, or unless you were lucky enough to get a decent landlord who set a fair and stable rent recognising the value of good reliable tenants, then the odds are you’re paying a fair chunk of your income on rent – and it’s likely leaving you with very little if any scope to save for a deposit.
You’re also likely living in fear of your landlord serving notice. In short, you feel vulnerable and insecure. Not the ideal way to try and plot a life and/or family life.
Yet in other countries and cities worldwide renting is a very valid housing option for people in all types of situations from young students to settled families.
Other countries manage to deliver rental options that provide affordable rents and, crucially, security of tenure.
This allows people access to a housing option which they can afford and which they can have a certainty about how long they’ll be there for thus allowing them to plan a life. If that involves children, it’s no problem.
No fear of having to change schools because the landlord has decided s/he can get more rent from someone else or needs it for a family member. On the flip side, the landlord is professional, has a certainty or income and a fixed tenant. An ideal situation for all parties involved.
Whereas here in Ireland we tend to have a proliferation of ‘accidental landlords’ (primarily people who fell victim to putting a foot onto that aforementioned property ladder), on the continent and in many US cities, strong regulations in the private sector have ensured a professionalisation of the sector which works to the benefit of all.
Whilst there have been some moves to beef up the powers of the Residential Tenancies Board, by and large the rental sector in Ireland is largely unregulated.
In Denmark for example, where the sector works particularly well, regulations have made long-term, often indefinite leases, a financially attractive option for both tenants and landlords.
On Tuesday, at the launch of the latest (of many yet to be delivered) project for the St Michael’s Estate complex in Inchicore Dublin 8, an idealogical battle was played out between two Government ministers from the same party. Strange, but true.
When Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy launched the cost-rental model for the site – a model which is to be welcomed and hopefully replicated – his own party’s Junior Minister Catherine Byrne (who represents the Inchicore area) angrily took to the stage (uninvited) to condemn the plans and declare it an unmitigated disaster for the local area.
She pointed out that renters make for a transient community that they don’t put down roots. Apparently she completely missed the hypocrisy her argument.
She, straight-faced, argued against creating a sustainable, affordable and professional rental sector which would mitigate against all the problems she pointed to within the current rental sector.
Ireland will have to come to terms with the fact that long-term renting is now the most, sometimes only, realistic housing option for an entire generation of people who will never be in a position to secure a mortgage.
Instead of decrying that fact and wringing hands whilst the situation escalates, we should look to embrace best-practice models that have proven successful in other places worldwide.
I welcome the cost-rental model announced on Tuesday and look forward to more of the same but simultaneously we also need to a conversation about regulations, professionlisation of the sector and pilot-projects of schemes that work elsewhere.
If we’re going to keep clapping ourselves on the back for being this supposedly progressive Republic then let’s get progressive with all our ideas and move away, where necessary, from the Field mentality of owning land.
Instead of pushing people off a financial cliff and hoping a foot lands on the bottom rung of a ladder that’s forever being pulled up, let’s start supporting people who may want or need to take an alternative option.
Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West. Her column appears here every Monday.