Thursday 17 October 2019

'Generation Rent is casting out a whole generation as educated outsiders who belong nowhere'

Photo: Stock Image
Photo: Stock Image
Ita O'Kelly

Ita O'Kelly

THE old joke that inside every Irish person’s heart is carved the word “land” may quite possibly be true.

Our relationship with land, property and landlords runs deep. It is intricately enmeshed in and woven through our history.

In John B Keane’s epic tale ‘The Field’, the Bull McCabe wanted to own that field, at any cost.

“It’s my field. It’s my child. I nursed it. I nourished it. I dug the rocks out of it with my bare hands and I made a living thing of it.”

Roll on to Ireland 2018 where homes have become an investment rather than a place to live and television schedules are dominated by property-improvement porn.

Young couples are outbid by pampered pensioners in pastel pullovers, with deep pockets, seeking investment property.

That glib term ‘Generation Rent’, beloved of property supplements, is used to describe those who are excluded from an opportunity to buy their own field or its equivalent – a modest little home of their own.

In 1991 almost 80pc of Irish people owned or were in the process of buying their own home and just 8pc were renting privately.

By 2016 the CSO figures show that 30pc of all occupied dwellings are now rented.

In 2000 7pc, or 270,000, were renting, but in 2016 this figure had swelled to 18pc – 843,000.

This amounts to an extra 573,000 seeking to rent.

Add 10,000 homeless people to that figure and thousands of Airbnb customers and you end up with a volatile, shambolic, dysfunctional mess masquerading as a housing system.

Significantly, the age at which the average person purchased a house in 1991 was 26 years.

In 2016 the age at which an Irish person can typically expect to become a homeowner is 35 years of age. Ludicrous.

Many others are forced to live at home with parents, effectively preventing them from commencing independent adult lives.

From a societal point of view this is highly undesirable.

It should come as no surprise that the age of the average first-time mother in Ireland today is 32.5 years – the highest in Europe.

And free baby boxes will not encourage people who have precarious work and don’t have a room to call their own to start nesting and having a family.

Given that around one-third of the population are now tenants of some sort, it is no lie to say they have been thrown under a bus by the State.

With rents increasing at impossible-to-sustain levels, the only winners here are private landlords. Rent caps in pressure zones have not delivered.

Contract work precludes access to mortgages, so the vicious rent trap prevails and savings are impossible.

The rental system in Ireland was only ever designed as a stepping stone to purchasing a home. It is not a tenable long-term option for anyone.

One of the biggest issues for  private tenants here is they can be moved on if the landlord wishes to sell. This is causing huge distress and uncertainty.

Mainland Europe, where long-term renting is common, by contrast protects its tenants and leases are typically long term, offering a decent quality of life.

A new survey from the UK Office of National Statistics makes for interesting reading on the social fallout of being condemned to longterm renting.

Younger renters between the ages of 18 and 34 years – those feckless avocado munchers – are among the loneliest group in society with 61pc reporting feeling lonely in their lives. And the reason given?

They don’t feel any sense of belonging in the community because they are temporary residents.

They are the flotsam and jetsam of the housing market.

Tenants here are often treated as second-class citizens and become invisible in neighbourhoods. In a market which holds ownership of property so close to its heart, those who are outside of this loop can become social pariahs.

Being a tenant means you cannot put down roots. You cannot plant a tree, paint your bedroom, choose your own curtains and, particularly sad for so many, you cannot even have a family pet in most instances.

For many, having children is out of the question.

For families stuck in the rental sector, the lack of security of tenure plays havoc with children’s lives and their attendance at school.

A friend who has lived in a private rented apartment in Terenure in Dublin for the last two years tells me she has only ever said hello to two people in that building in all that time. What a way to live.

The American expression of being “house poor” has never been truer.

We have a young, well-educated workforce that is hostage to Government policy which seems hell bent on excluding it from that most basic desire – to secure a room of one’s own’.

The fact that 25pc of our TDs and a third of Government ministers are themselves private landlords merely adds insult to injury.

In less than a decade Government policy has allowed the Irish property market to become a runaway train once again.

If left unattended, it has the capacity to destroy the fabric of our society and our sense of community.

It is casting out a whole generation as educated outsiders who belong nowhere.

Their only option is temporary accommodation, for which they are obliged to pay a king’s ransom. ‘Generation Shafted’ is perhaps the more accurate term.

Online Editors

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