THE FACT OF THE MATTER
The irony is not lost on me that on the day the Irish Independent publishes its Rich Politicians List — which shows 68 millionaires in the Dail and that Michael Healy-Rae’s €4.7m property portfolio makes him the richest landlord in the Dail — comes figures that show that the number of people homeless in Ireland has risen for the third month in a row.
Latest figures show 8,212 adults and children without a home. The Department of Housing recorded 6,023 adults as being homeless during August, 2,189 children among them. Single parents and their children account for almost half the number of homeless.
The homeless charity Focus Ireland says we face further increases in homelessness later this year as the private rental market constricts and evictions rise. Mike Allen, Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy, says: “All the indicators are that we will see a return to a pattern of rising homelessness in the next few months unless urgent and targeted action is taken.”
He says the Government’s new, and delayed, ‘Housing For All’ strategy needs to take a “twin track approach” that will increase social housing provision and improve prevention.
I believe that until recent times we had a misconstrued image of the homeless person as someone who was poor to begin with or who had addictions or mental health issues or had a criminal record or was long-term unemployed. Granted, such people can be homeless, often long-term.
We now know, however, that among those 8,000 plus souls without a roof over their heads are people who have had to quit their rented accommodation because the landlord wants to sell or go down the airbnb route and there’s nowhere else to rent, or single people whose sole salary makes the stringent bank rules on mortgage affordability nigh on impossible.
The pandemic, too, has seen people lose jobs and mortgages become unaffordable, although, thankfully, the law has changed in recent years to offer a more accommodating solution for defaulters and/or those in negative equity.
When it comes to so-called ‘affordable housing’, a new report finds there is a 20% deterioration in just three months in the availability of affordable rental properties across the country, and a 27% deterioration in six months. The quarterly Locked Out report from the Simon Communities of Ireland, shows there are only 2,208 properties available to rent at any price within the 16 areas examined over the three dates in June of this year, down 20% from March last.
Meanwhile, the nearly quarter of a million young people going into in third level education in recent weeks are seeing the “worst student accommodation crisis ever” with student unions saying the Government was “warned it was coming but ignored it”.
Students are sleeping in fields, in cars, packed into hostels, paying up to €400 a week to stay in a hotel, couch-surfing, or commuting up to five hours daily to attend lectures, says USI President Clare Austick.
According to college lecturer Rory Hearne, some students have not been able to take up their first-preference course, others have deferred, and even dropped out. “This is the worst student accommodation crisis we have ever seen in this country,” he says. “Despite warnings from myself and others that this crisis was coming, the Government largely ignored it.
“As a lecturer, I see in my courses the personal toll of the accommodation crisis. Students are stressed, anxious, and exhausted,” says Dr Hearne, an assistant professor in social policy at Maynooth University.
Like the wider housing crisis, the student crisis is not some ‘accident’ or force of nature. It has happened because students have been left to the vagaries of the market and questionable investor funds. And housing left to the unforeseen changes of the private market.
Here’s the crux of the matter: Back in July 2017, the Government launched its National Student Accommodation Strategy based on enticing private sector (and mainly global real estate investors) to deliver purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA). In reality, the so-called strategy had little funding for publicly provided student accommodation by way of the Higher Education institutes. Of the 8,229 PBSA units completed since 2016, 84% are privately delivered, and just one in six is student accommodation via public third-level colleges.
And, anyway, such private investor ‘digs’ are very expensive. Rooms costing up to a €1,000 a month. What student can afford that?
And now, increasingly, they are being converted into short-term tourist accommodation!
Are we having a laugh or what?