Tuesday 26 March 2019

'I've worked in senior management... I never thought I'd end up on the social housing lists' - Letter from a working mother

Workers in social housing: Low earning workers, like Eileen, who cannot afford high rents are being forced to 'go social' and live in run-down buildings
Workers in social housing: Low earning workers, like Eileen, who cannot afford high rents are being forced to 'go social' and live in run-down buildings
Workers in social housing: Low earning workers, like Eileen, who cannot afford high rents are being forced to 'go social' and live in run-down buildings
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Recently I received correspondence from Eileen, who is a renting tenant in a private apartment and on Dublin City Council's housing lists. Despite a low income and bad arthritis, she is holding out against taking HAP payments because they will ultimately remove her from the housing lists.

There has been much discussion lately on the heated subject of social housing and the general lack of it.

So I thought it might be timely to let Eileen have her say about the alternative, as a working mum on the waiting lists, but currently renting in a block built in the boom years - back when construction quality was poor and local authorities failed to adequately enforce construction standards.

Eileen didn't want be identified for obvious reasons. Here's what she has to say about the conditions she lives in, whilst waiting for social housing. I have made alterations (including her name) in order to protect her anonymity:

"I live in a two-bed apartment with my 16-year-old daughter (I'm divorced). It's about 600 sq ft. I work and have always worked because I had the misfortune to marry an artist. So I was always the main breadwinner. I've fallen on hard times owing to illness and age (I'm in my late 50s) and because I have always rented and never bought my own home.

When I was 21 I moved to Madrid and lived and worked there until I was 52. I rented, as was usual there. When I came back to Ireland I hoped to get a good job, as I'm fluent in Spanish and have worked in senior management positions in businesses for many years. I applied for jobs everywhere but to no avail. No one was interested in a woman in her 50s with no degree. I'm working part-time as a merchandiser for an Irish company and I get a disability allowance owing to my arthritis, which has had a big impact on my life. I never for a moment thought I'd end up on the lists for social housing.

The 2005-built Dublin suburban apartment complex I live in is in a middling area. Most of the apartments are rented out. All of the owner occupiers who could do so have left, either selling entirely or renting out their apartments. Those who remain (about 15pc) are all in negative equity.

The complex is in disrepair. There have been three different management companies since I moved in seven years ago, each worse than the other. Basically they get the rubbish taken and about four times a year the gardens are attended to. That's it. There used to be someone coming once a week to half hoover the communal areas inside each building but that seems to have stopped. The entrance, halls and stairs to the building I live in are filthy. My land lady is lovely. She had to move out because she couldn't deal with the stairs.

Since I've been here the block areas have never been painted and the bannisters, windows, doors, etc, have never been cleaned. The outside of the windows in my apartment - which I can't reach because I'm on a higher floor - have been cleaned once in seven years by the management company. The parking area underground is flooded all year round. The sewage pipes run on the ceiling of the car park, I've seen them burst three times. Recently an ambulance couldn't get into the compex to get to a person who had a bad fall. We estimate our block pays €20k a year in fees. Where do they go?

Celtic Tiger apartments like mine are generally small and have no storage space - for suitcases, mop and bucket, Christmas tree and decorations, sheets and towels. The storage heaters are famous for giving many a low income eejit a heart attack when they get the first electricity bill after moving in. They cost a fortune to run, only heat up the common areas of the apartment and when you come home in the evening after a hard day's work they're getting cold and so is your home.

Storage heaters and convector heaters and all the other crappy electric heaters that are just stuck on a wall and plugged into an electric socket are the most expensive and inefficient forms of heating ever invented.

In the tiny space that is the kitchenette you have one drawer and very little counter space. The rule: one person at a time in there, the only way to avoid accidents and arguments.

There's the dreaded rental carpet. I don't know what the original colour was but now it's indeterminate. If you have any kind of problem with germs, bugs or dirt in general, well, an apartment like mine is your worst nightmare. No amount of scrubbing or steam cleaning, will make it look anything other than filthy, grubby and seedy. You can't change it because you're renting.

The washing machine is a combo washer plus dryer (bigger electricity bill!) This has a 4kg load which will wash a hand towel and a hankie at a time. The addition of a bath towel will overload it.

Every time you put on the washing machine, open a tap, flush the toilet, the pump will roar away, morning, noon and night. If your neighbours leave taps dripping or put their washing machine on at all hours then forget sleep. With the windows, the wind cuts in through the non-functioning seals. They won't close properly, so despite expensive heating, your apartment will be cold and windy. The front door is not fitted properly, which means that draughts blow through. The internal doors are all made of actual cardboard. In the wet areas (bathroom) they are falling apart.

I feel very let down that builders were allowed to construct such shoddy and inadequate housing during a time when the country was flooded with money. I blame the Government and the housing authorities, which have proven they are not fit for purpose. Not everyone on social housing lists is a lazy scumbag who has never done a day's work in their life. And it's not free. We pay rent.

Social housing has to be reimagined and young people should be encouraged to work and helped to get on the property ladder through affordable housing schemes. Not stuck like this. Many thanks for reading. It's nice to get it off my chest."


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