Rory Hearne: The Social contract in Ireland for housing is broken

Philosophy must change to treat rental housing as home, Rory Hearne writes as part of the Irish Examiner's series on youth unemployment 
Rory Hearne: The Social contract in Ireland for housing is broken

The housing crisis, which results from housing policy failure of successive Governments, is robbing a generation of their adulthood, and even their future. Picture: Dan Linehan

The social contract in Ireland for housing is broken.

A generation is stuck in unaffordable and insecure rental housing or living at home as adults with their parents.

Access to a home of their own or to council housing, which was available to previous generations, has been removed from those in their 20s, 30s, and also many in their 40s.

The scale of housing need among ‘Generation Rent’ and ‘Generation Stuck at Home’ is staggering.

A fifth of households — 750,000 people, many with young families, workers, singles, migrants, and carers — are stuck in a private rental sector that is too often insecure, of poor standard, and unaffordable.

A teacher or a nurse on a starting salary in Dublin would have to spend almost their entire take-home income (83% of it) to rent an average priced home.

A third of children going to primary school now live in the rental sector. That is 168,000 children, most living in insecure housing.

But there is also ‘Generation Stuck at Home’ — 350,000 young adults aged 18-29 living with their parents.

Unable to afford the cost of renting their own home, they are stuck in the parental home, with resultant impacts on family and personal relationships, mental health, sense of independence, and self-esteem. Many are considering emigrating.

The recent CSO Life at Home 2021 report shows this, with 82% of adults (over 18) living at home with their parents doing so because of financial reasons. Almost all (88%) living with a parent said they would prefer to move out.

Some 52% feel their parents will not treat them like an adult until they move out.

The housing crisis, which results from housing policy failure of successive governments, is robbing a generation of their adulthood, and even their future.

Generation Rent is the new housing precariat; living with precarious housing and precarious work contracts.

It is heartbreaking that young couples feel forced into postponing or even forgoing having children because of the insecurity in the private rental sector.

There is also a social time bomb ticking of renters in their 50s and 60s, hitting retirement and facing the prospect of being unable to afford the rent.

Will they be forced to retire into homelessness?

There are other issues such as the lack of accessible housing for disabled people in the private rental sector, and discrimination against lone parents, Travellers, and migrants.

But fundamentally the rent in Ireland is just way too high and has to be reduced, not just stabilised.

The Government’s forthcoming Housing for All Plan must address these issues of Generation Rent and Generation Stuck at Home.

Unfortunately, the Government has already postponed the plan.

It is a poor start when Housing for All has missed its first delivery target — its own launch date.

This is worrying and once more shows a lack of a sense of urgency on the Government’s part to address the growing societal catastrophe of the housing crisis.

The Housing For All Plan requires a human rights-based approach to housing and for €4bn in capital funding to be allocated each year to deliver 20,000 public homes.

These are the vital starting points for providing affordable and secure homes for Generation Rent.

In order to make a shift for renters, the overarching philosophy of housing policy must be changed to treat private rental housing as a home, a human right of tenants, not as an investment asset.

Many renters are not in a position to buy a home and they are likely to be lifetime renters.

The CSO survey showed that 72% of renters in a house share, who are in full-time employment, feel they will never be in a position to own their own place.

They need secure, affordable rental homes. But the private rental sector does not provide a home in Ireland. It is insecure.

In the last 10 months alone 1,100 eviction notices were served to tenants by landlords, many selling up their property.

Tenants can’t paint their walls, hang a picture, have a pet, and often have to leave their home before they can embed themselves in the community, so vital for children and families.

A survey of renters by Threshold showed that only 15% rent by choice — 44% want to own their own home and 32% want to live in social housing.

There is no doubt there would be fewer people desperate to buy a home if affordable, secure, and decent standard rental homes were available.

This would ease house prices. It shows how the housing system is interconnected.

Immediate legislative measures should be introduced to make private renting a home, and make rents more affordable — reducing rents, not just linking them to inflation.

These include removing the ability of landlords to evict a tenant on sale of the property, enacting lifetime leases, tenancy measures to allow for tenants to improve their home, setting rent affordability mechanisms, and linking rents to income.

Rents for new-build properties and refurbished units should be capped also.

This is particularly important to reduce the speculative development of investor landlord build-to-rent units which are proliferating in  Dublin, Cork, and Galway at an alarming rate.

The right to housing is required to be inserted into the Constitution as a balance to private property rights which will be cited by landlords and government as a barrier to these measures.

  • Rory Hearne is assistant professor in social policy at Maynooth University and author of Housing Shock: The Irish Housing Crisis and How to Solve it

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