'It's a constant struggle': the human faces of the housing crisis

'It's a constant struggle': the human faces of the housing crisis

Keelin Cox Creed: 'It's only fair to bring a child into a secure home. To not have that is really disheartening'. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Last week, reporter Ryan O’Rourke, 27, wrote that the buying of houses in bulk by funds to be let out showed that people his age were never going to be able to buy their own homes. Now, Ryan and Shauna Bowers talk to many more people trapped in a similar situation, the human faces of the housing crisis

‘There’s no reprieve... it’s a constant struggle’

For Keelin Cox Creed and Ian Creed, high rents and house prices in Cork City aren’t just preventing them from having stability; they're also forcing them to delay having children.

“My biggest goal in life has always been to be a mother. It is a huge goal of ours to have the security of owning a home and starting a family in that home,” Keelin said.

“But it’s only fair to bring a child into a secure home. To not have that is really disheartening.” 

Ian, 33, agrees, saying the instability of the housing market is forcing the couple to “push back our future constantly”.

“I’m put in a position where I feel like I can’t have children, because I couldn’t support them,” Ian said.

Keelin moved to Ireland from Colorado, in the US, in 2017, and works as a note taker for people with disabilities in universities. Ian, meanwhile, works in freight retail.

They both enjoy their jobs, but said there is no security and that their wages don’t align with the cost of living.

“There was a time, as a breadman, that my father could keep a home, his missus not working, him supporting his children. There's not the respect there was," Keelin said.

“It’s all interconnected. You can reach for your goals, but it's quite hard to do so and it's almost as if people coming from different places, different education sectors, different backgrounds, some people are afforded more dignity than others," she said. 

Keelin and Ian have been renting an apartment in the city centre and the price of that, they say, makes it impossible to save for a deposit.

"We'd love to be able to put money away for the mortgage, but with the rent, everything we have goes on rent,” Ian said.

"I'm paying around half of our salary on rent. I've seen rent rise over the past 15 years in this city to where I'm paying over double what I was paying 15 years ago. I don’t see myself getting out of the rent trap."

Keelin agreed: "We’re in a position where, because the choice is either rent or save, we have no savings, because we pay for rent. A house would likely be upwards of €300,000 and that's €30,000 we would need to save for a deposit. There is just no reprieve from that. It's a constant struggle."

‘These things are like dreams to a member of Travelling community’

William Casey: Has set himself the goal of buying a house outright, without assistance.  Picture: Liam Burke
William Casey: Has set himself the goal of buying a house outright, without assistance.  Picture: Liam Burke

If getting a mortgage is hard for a young person from a settled background, it is a pipe dream for members of the Traveller community.

William Casey, 29, from Limerick, has set himself the goal of buying a home outright, without assistance. However, he said a bank will never offer him a loan.

William, although currently unemployed, is a writer and musician, whose debut script won the Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition in 2019 and who has a new album out in the coming weeks.

William said there are massive hurdles for Travellers who wish to move away from the nomadic culture, stopping them from even going for mortgages.

Recent CSO figures show that 80% of Travellers are unemployed, meaning the obstacles they need to overcome  to be eligible for a mortgage are monumental.

“If you don’t have a job, if you’re not encouraged to save or have plans set in place, you’re not going to get a mortgage," William said.

"We're caught in a negative system when it comes to trying to look for a home, or any kind of set-up. These things are like wishes, dreams, and prayers to a member of the Travelling community. It's a pipe dream," he said.

Another issue that William highlighted is the reluctance of many communities to accept Travellers living in their area.

He gave an example of a young Traveller family who had been granted a mortgage on a home, but felt they were unable to take it, because of hostilities from the local residents.

"It would discourage me, and I feel it would discourage anyone from getting a mortgage, if we're not actually able to live in the house we are paying for," William said.

There is also a distrust among the Travelling community towards banks.

"The bank will take the roof from over your head in two seconds, after trying to get you into it in the first place," William said. "So, that's a really scary feeling for us. You want a home; you want to feel secure in life. But are you ever really secure?"

William said the mortgage market offers Travellers little or nothing.

"It's not in a Traveller's head to ever think about a mortgage. Honestly, they are thinking about how they are going to keep the generator going," he said.

'If you don’t go to college, then you lose out completely'

Alex Hibbits: 'There are a lot of other systemic issues in the country.' Picture: Moya Nolan
Alex Hibbits: 'There are a lot of other systemic issues in the country.' Picture: Moya Nolan

Alex Hibbits said the inaccessibility of secure housing is about more than just supply:  It's a result of compounding issues, including lack of mental-health support, a Dublin-centric economy, and insecure tenancies.

"I feel like there are a lot of other systemic issues in the country, not just in housing, but young people with mental-health issues and things like that,” the 25-year-old said.

"For me, anyway, in my case, the market itself is a problem, but there have been so many contributing factors that have made it almost impossible for me to get on that ladder." 

Alex did not go to university, as he was struggling with mental-health issues, and feels that is another reason why he will be unable to own a home.

"My parents both didn’t go to college and were working in a TV repair shop when they got their mortgage," Alex said. "That whole working class has just been completely cut. If you don’t get across that line in college, or you don't do that, then you lose out completely." 

Alex, who works in the payments sector, is living with his girlfriend and her family in a rental property in Blackrock, Dublin. The couple pays €500 per month each and moving out by themselves is too costly.

"We just haven't had the money to get a place for ourselves," Alex said. "Even looking at the market, we look every now and again, but the cost of it. We wouldn't be able to afford a place to rent just ourselves," he said.

"We’re not paid incredibly well in our jobs, but we earn enough that isn't bad. It's crazy that we have to look at moving in with other people, as well, if we were to move out of her house." 

The fact that renting alone is too costly makes the idea of ever owning their own home next to impossible.

"What we contribute to rent would be more than what a mortgage payment would cost," Alex said. "But because we don’t earn crazy amounts, that's not a conversation we're having.

"We will never own a property. No matter what deposit we save, no matter what rent we're paying, that just doesn’t matter," Alex said.

'Proper protections for tenants and security are needed'

Conor Reddy: Has had to move back in with parents after a taste of independent life.
Conor Reddy: Has had to move back in with parents after a taste of independent life.

Conor Reddy lived in two rental properties over two years. The first  was sold to an investment firm that hiked the rent up by 4%, putting the price out of reach for him.

The second was owned by a family member and was sold after the owner died.

Now, while undertaking a PhD in immunology, the 25-year-old has returned to living with his parents, because of the high costs of rent and insecurity of tenure.

"I am lucky that I am able to come back here and save, but it did feel like a knock," Conor said. "You go through college, and you gradually get a taste of independent life, you feel like you're moving somewhere.

"Then, for that to be reversed, you feel like you're stepping backwards; you feel like you're regressing.” 

Conor hopes by the age of 30 he will be  able to settle down and purchase a home, but  said the rental sector needs to change.

"I think we need actual rent controls to reduce the rent, rather than just freezing them or putting a limit on how much they can go up," Conor said.

"Security of tenure is kind of a final thing. I’ve been in two places the past two years. A lot of my friends change places every year, because they can’t get long-term leases or tenancy agreements as, indeed, you can in other parts of Europe. If we're going to have a high proportion of people renting, there should be proper protections for tenants and security." 

Until those things change, Conor doesn’t think people in his position could even think about buying.

"It just doesn't seem like a possibility in any universe," Conor said. "No matter how much I save, it seems the prices are going to be unaffordable, whether by myself or with a partner." 

He said the issue is more than just demand shortages: Job insecurity and low wages are also factors.

"Salaries are nowhere near what you'd need to comfortably rent somewhere, or buy somewhere, in my particular field," Conor said. "There aren’t stable positions in academia and all of these things are part of the housing crisis.

"Wages have stagnated across sectors for younger workers, and there is a lot less security out there. That does factor into the conversation around people being able to buy homes or being able to rent comfortably," he said.

'I don’t want to have to become a doctor to be able to buy a house'

Janneke van Nijnanten: Moved to Dublin over 10 years ago and has spent the past four living in a house with nine other housemates. Picture: Dave Keegan
Janneke van Nijnanten: Moved to Dublin over 10 years ago and has spent the past four living in a house with nine other housemates. Picture: Dave Keegan

Cities will lose essential workers, driven out by rising house prices.

This is according to Janneke van Nijnanten, a 31-year-old Dutch musician and childminder, who moved to Dublin 10 years ago.

Janneke, who goes by the name Jane Willow while performing, has spent the past four years living in a house with nine other housemates. 

She will soon move into a new house, which she will share with one housemate, but the cost means half of her income will be spent on rent.

Rising rents push the dream of owning a house even further from her reach.

"Though I've saved up a decent amount for a deposit for a house, I think that, with my €20-25k income, I won't ever be able to buy a house in Dublin, or anywhere in Ireland," said Janneke.

"The three-and-a-half times-your-income rule for a mortgage won't buy you anything. I don't see how someone who works a low- or medium-wage job shouldn't be able to buy a house. It shouldn't just be an option for people with higher incomes to buy these so-called affordable homes."

Janneke said rising costs mean lower-paid workers will leave, if given the opportunity.

"Where would this country be if it weren't for low-income people like nurses, childminders, builders, musicians/artists, retail workers? And what will happen to Dublin if low-income people have no chance of really living in it?

"Childminding is such an important job. Being a teacher is an important job. Being a binman is an important job. These people should have just as much a chance to get a house. 

"I don't want to have to become a doctor to be able to buy a house in Ireland. I'm happy doing what I do. I feel valued by my boss," she said.

Janneke said she has come under enormous pressure to change her career, even from family members. She believes that in the next five years, she will have to choose between not owning a house, leaving Ireland, or giving up the job she loves.

"I've been looking into it and I just realised that I'm really happy being a childminder and really happy being a musician," Janneke said. 

"But it just means that I'll, you know, probably never earn more than €30k, you know, unless I become famous, or something strange like that," she said.

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