‘A self re­spect­ing sewer rat wouldn’t go in there’

The pri­vate rental sec­tor in Ire­land is no place for an older per­son

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - NEWS REVIEW - Roisin Guyett-Ni­chol­son

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.

Be­low stan­dard

“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

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