Lorraine Courtney: 'In this bad game of Monopoly, the young find they can't even pass Go'
This Government's housing policy has been a disaster so far. Not enough homes are being built. Rents have shot past boom levels. The number of homeless people hovers around 10,000.
Social housing lists are long and young people are being forced to boomerang back to their parents. Meanwhile, properties lie idle and many older people live in big houses long after their children have flown the nest. And we have a clear need for more homes that are appropriate for older people's needs.
We are also obsessed with houses. We swoon over Dermot Bannon and devour property supplements. But the housing market has become like a bad game of Monopoly, with the youngest and least wealthy forced off the board before they have even rolled the dice, while those in well-to-do south Dublin neighbourhoods get ever richer.
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The current Government hasn't been able to do anything that actually works. A new report says it is going to start paying older people to downsize and move into age-friendly neighbourhoods. The Housing Options for our Ageing Population policy statement wants to encourage older people to "right-size to appropriately sized units" - an attempt to find a new way of dealing with the current crisis in housing.
The report comes as the recently appointed chair of the Land Development Agency, John Moran, said he wanted to develop State-owned apartment complexes where people can rent for their entire lives.
It is difficult to make the downsizing argument without sounding mean-spirited, but one of the ways to ease our never-ending housing crisis would be to financially encourage older people to move into smaller houses. Should we throw old people out of their homes? Of course not. But if we can incentivise downsizing and always keep it optional, why not try it?
This won't suit everybody. Lots of older people need their spare rooms. Some take in lodgers to supplement low pensions. Others need the space for children and grandchildren since more adult children are returning home to live with parents precisely because of the housing shortage.
I've rented precariously and unhappily for years but I never want to see a situation here where old people could be forced into pokey bedsits by 'housing police'. I've lived in Moscow too, in one of the infamous Soviet monoliths where people didn't have much more than cubicles to come home to at the end of a day's work. Moran's State-owned apartment block sounds ominously like Khrushchev's 1950s ones, where a private life wasn't possible, with people living in cramped communal flats. We have torn down the Ballymun blocks and O'Devaney Gardens. Do we want to go back to that?
We have a very acute housing crisis that is especially affecting young people. We can't build enough houses fast enough and even if a few older households downsized it would definitely make a difference to a number of young lives.