Home truths: Toll of a nation's moving traumas
A house near mine was recently vacated by a young family who had been renting it for just a year. The couple had already moved three times in the last 5 years in a cycle which saw them ejected from various rental properties for a range of reasons. These included the bank pushing stricken landlords into selling up, landlords choosing not to renew leases to favour relations as new tenants and landlords choosing to sell up to take advantage of the recent lift in property prices.
Having moved into this latest semi detached they had reckoned on at least a few years of tenure, enabling them to have a life's breather before planning what to do next. They had once again jumped through the usual hoops in order to get their children into local overprescribed schools. But at the end of their first year, the landlord had surpised them with a snap decision to sell. The couple were understandably bitter to have to move on yet again.
The ridiculous thing is that both of these confortably paid professionals are themselves reluctant landlords - each had bought their own apartment before becoming a couple and starting a family together. Both apartments (in negative equity) are rented out because neither is suitable for two young children.
They had in fact been considering making an offer to buy their latest rented house from their landlord. But during their short occupation, a new problem arose - the Central Bank introduced its lending restrictions. Despite both having good jobs in progressive sectors, they'd now have to raise at least €70,000 for a 20pc deposit to buy what was in essence a bog standard house.
They were understandably angry. The wider result of these restrictions has been an increase in the number of people renting, more pressure on limited rental stock as a result, and therefore fast increasing rents. They and so many other Irish couples are now now trapped in vicious Catch-22 whereby they have no chance at all now to save up a huge deposit not least because rents are rising to levels which prevent them saving in the first place.
The outcome is that a family who could quite easily be paying a monthly mortgage (at considerably less than what it costs to rent) are forced to move for the fourth time in five years. Mum in particular expressed concern for the children who have had to change schools many times and abandon their little friends again and again.
She's right to be concerned according to a study recently published in Northern Ireland and which has a grim relevance to our newly "moveable" society south of the border.
Published by Foteini Tselious of Queen's University, the study shows that children who move many times during childhood may be more likely to experience mental health problem. Following the experiences of almost 50,000 children it showed that moving frequently may be worse again in its impact on older children - for obvious reasons. They must change schools and lose long established friendship on which they are more reliant. After five or more moves, children are more than three times as likely to experience mental health problems.
"Moving house can be a hugely stressful experience for the parents and the family as a whole as it can be associated with change in social environment and networks, and other aspects of the physical and social environment," Tseliou said. Tellingly, children were more likely to move if their families rented housing - an increasingly common circumstance in Ireland thanks to rising values, new lending restrictions and a long standing shortage in the supply of housing which Government has glaringly failed to address.
Another English study makes the point that children who moved home more often were more likely not to achieve in formal assessments such as exams. But you don't need academics to tell you all this.
In a poignant article in last Saturday's Irish Independent, Fiona Cassim wrote about the effects of a childhood spent moving from place to place at the whim of landlords. Cassim wrote that she had 24 different bedrooms and 19 different groups of friends. She wrote that the little ceramic plate that read "Fiona's Room" had 12 different pieces of Blue Tack on the back of it "from all the times it was carefully taken down by a confused and brokenhearted little girl and dutifully replaced in a new place, on a new door."
She recalls her mother ("a warrior who stood against 22 landlords and lost every time") attempting to enthuse her daughter again and again about the "benefits" of moving to yet another home.
Because when we debate the housing crisis, we forget that the ongoing shortage of homes in Ireland and the consistent and dismal failure of Government to do something about it, is having a far more hurtful and dangerous affect on our future prospects - and on those who are currently too young to have their say.