‘A self respecting sewer rat wouldn’t go in there’
The private rental sector in Ireland is no place for an older person
Mae Robbins lives in a studio flat in a terraced house on Dublin’s northside. Her flat is small and stores all her worldly possessions. Though Mae describes it herself as “cramped” – it’s still her home.
However, she now faces the possibility of homelessness, as she is set to be evicted on July 31st. Her landlord recently decided to sell the house, which Mae shares with four other people ranging in age from their 40s to late 70s. She has been looking for somewhere to move since January but, despite viewing 50 places, Mae and her partner have still not found anywhere to live.
Mae says her main problem is that she has a very modest income and it is nearly impossible to find something.
“My problem is,” she explains, “I’m on a modest salary... we cannot find anywhere to live that we can afford.”
She faced a similar situation three years ago when she was forced to leave her studio flat because the landlord was selling.
Mae and her partner, who currently live next door to each other, are looking to move in together. “We want to have a closer relationship but we’re being prevented physically from being able to enjoy each other’s company, in the privacy of our own place,” she explains.
While the housing crisis continues, those on lower or fixed incomes face increased difficulty. Although rent increases have begun to slow for the first time since 2012, vulnerable people are still being priced out of the market.
Little or no hope
Sean Moynihan, chief executive of Alone, explained: “In recent years we have seen a huge increase in the number of older people come to Alone because they are no longer able to afford their private rented accommodation. If the landlord decides to increase the rent, or if the older person is no longer able to work, they have little or no hope of securing private rented accommodation again.”
People living on a pension or limited incomes cannot rely on the private rental market to offer them security. While their income remains fixed, rental prices have continued to increase, meaning the standard of accommodation they can afford is quite poor.
Between late 2013 and 2015 Alone reported a 290 per cent increase on enquiries on housing applications. The charity works with people over 60 who are at risk of isolation and homelessness.
As John-Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Threshold, a charity that works with those at risk of becoming homeless, puts it : “the private rental sector, unfortunately, is no place for an older person.”
As the price of rent increases, people are often faced with poor quality accommodation as their only option.
The latest Daft.ie rental price report estimated there were only 1,074 properties available to rent. As the average national rent is now over ¤1,000, people like Mae Robbins are caught out. Her current rent is ¤480 and she is not able to pay much more.
One of the main problems is the lack of social housing. As McCafferty explains there has been “almost no social housing built in the last 10 years”. This leaves people stuck in the private rental market. While they might qualify for sheltered living, there is no sheltered living available.
Alice Leahy, director of services with the Alice Leahy Trust, also sees a problem with social housing. She works with people who are living on the streets, which she says has increased in the last number of years. Leahy explains one of the issues they face in trying to house people is that the “local authority has stopped building local authority housing.
Moynihan notes that Alone welcomes “the implementation of pilot housing projects for older people within Dublin City Council”. He also claimed “it is critical that all local authorities follow this lead so that housing developments for older people are implemented throughout the country. We need to work with government to make meaningful strides to ensure the security of homes for our ageing demographic.”
As more people face the possibility of homelessness, many older people are even more insecure. “Every year Ireland has 20,000 additional older people and every year the housing situation grows in severity. We know what works and we know what older people need but we don’t have the re- sources to tackle this alone,” Moynihan says.
However, the lack of accommodation itself is not the only issue. Alone says they deal with many cases where people will continue to live in below-standard accommodation, afraid to contact the landlord in case they raise the rent or ask the tenant to leave.
“The current market rate also means that many older people are currently living in below-standard private rented accommodation, afraid to complain in case the landlord asks them to leave,” Moynihan notes.
The conditions of the accommodation Mae has been looking to rent are not up to standard. One apartment she described as a place “a self-respecting sewer rat would not go.” In another place “the washbasin was so badly cracked [her partner] turned on the tap and the water just poured straight through onto the floor. The toilet didn’t look like it had been flushed since time began.”
As her eviction date draws closer, Mae and her partner still have not found a place to live. With only weeks to go before they have to leave, Mae says her biggest fear is becoming homeless, something that is beginning to affect her health. “I’m kept awake at night by worrying, therefore I can’t sleep, therefore I have an attack of asthma.”
For people like Mae Robinson and her partner the quality of affordable options is very low. Though she hopes that a new Housing Assistance Payment will maybe allow them to move in together, she has no plan B.
Mae Robbins: “I’m on a modest salary ... we cannot find anywhere to live that we can afford.” PHOTOGRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL