Ireland's Good News Crisis

Why our pro-life ethic must extend to the housing crisis and beyond

Around the 3rd of each month, I steel myself for a visit from the landlord. He’s a lovely man, really: kind, affable and reasonable. He never asks for inspections, trusts us with house decisions and has encouraged us to make his old home our for-now home, in every respect. He buys the paint, and we make over the kitchen cabinets. We make small repairs, and he takes it off the rent.

It’s a win-win for us both: our family has a secure home, and he knows we’re putting in the elbow grease to increase the value of his investment.

Still, I know he’s under pressure… pressure to sell. He told me as much last month, when he asked that question every renter fears to hear:

'My daughter goes to university in a couple years,' he says, trailing off.

'Yeah, our son, too,' I reply.

'And prices will only go up,' he says.

'Yeah,' I sigh, 'I know.'

'So would you want to buy this house?'

Oh yes, I said. I would loooooove to buy this house. We’ve lived here longer than we’ve lived anywhere. Our youngest has lived most of his life here, our children’s formative memories have been captured here. We love our neighbours, love our (walking-distance) schools, love the back garden and the kitchen and even the poky, creaky floorboards. This is our home in every way.

So yes, of course I do, I told him. But despite good credit, lengthy employment history, university degrees and a stable job, we could never afford it.

'And it’s not a cheap house,' he said.

No, I replied. It wouldn’t be cheap it all.

The Irish housing market is going no place but up up up, and despite Minister Simon Coveney’s assurances that another bust is not forthcoming, it seems inevitable that this bubble will eventually burst.

Despite good credit, lengthy employment history, university degrees and a stable job, we could never afford to buy our home.

On Monday, RTÉ aired the first of a documentary series highlighting the issue we’ve all seen coming since the Taoiseach declared Ireland in recovery. Ireland’s Property Crisis follows house hunters looking to buy, single mothers looking for security, and widows just wanting to keep the home they own outright… well, until the bank that owned her mortgage sold it to a venture fund, that is. The doc also features the estate agents who tell us that €1200 per month for an unfurnished one-bed flat in Clondalkin is a good deal (after dozens of applicants queued up to see the place, it eventually went for €1300 per month).

According to the filmmakers, more than 5 million people will make Ireland their home in the next 15 years, and where will they live when nearly 7,500 people have no place to live now?

Where many do live – their own homes underwater in mortgage arrears or under looming threat of being forced to vacate their rentals with one month’s notice – offers no security. Not a bit.

Here’s a few more sobering stats the programme offered:

  • 500 repossession cases were heard in court that week
  • 4,875 adults and 2,546 children need emergency accommodation
  • Over 91,000 families are on the social housing list
  • 100,000 homes are in negative equity
  • Many of the current 6,000 Airbnb listings in Dublin were once standard rental properties (is it possible that all of those listed above in need of emergency accommodation could be housed if those properties were available for long-term rent? Maybe not, but it would certainly help.)

Just this week, a MyHome.ie survey indicates that housing prices in Dublin have gone up 10 percent in the first three months of this year in comparison to this time last year, despite (or because of?) mortgage measures aiming to help buyers, not hinder them.

None of this is good news. It’s not good news for working class first-time buyers or long-term renters. It’s not good news for our immigrant neighbours. And it’s not good news for single-income homes or vulnerable families.

'I didn't see the documentary but I don't think I could bear to watch it as it's all too close to home,' says a friend of mine and fellow renter.

'We are just on the cusp of moving to Northern Ireland because we can't afford to live where we are and our landlords have given us notice. It's crushing. When I called a mortgage broker he practically laughed in my face when I said we only had one income. He said, "Could you not get a part time job or something to bring in even €10k a year?" I have 3 hours child free each day.'

What do you do when you face a tough decision and have nowhere to go? What happens if a young woman sharing an alarmingly small bedsit with a stranger (the only thing she can afford in a city and country not her own) falls pregnant? Or when your company closes shop and you can no longer pay rent or fall behind in your mortgage? Or when you’ve put 10 percent down on affordable cooperative housing, only to wait 14 years and consider emigration before seeing it break ground?

'I never thought it would take this long,' Aisling Lynch said. 'All I wanted was a home.'

The secular world often shakes its enlightened head at the pro-life movement, claiming it is out of touch, religiously biased or politically motivated. They don’t see a holistic pro-life movement, one which is just as concerned with the ability to thrive as much as with seeing a pregnancy to term.

If Christians want to have a voice – a positive, educated, and compassionate voice – in the public square or in the marketplace, we need to raise a ruckus about the unjust economic culture right in front of our face and affecting way too many people we know. We must find ways to ensure women have a place to bring their babies home to, that single parents can offer their children a secure and hopeful future, that employees are paid what they’re worth and that just as many homes are built as offices.

The Christian church may no longer hold the sway it once did in government reform, and history has taught us that economic disparity may take decades to solve, but if we want to wage a battle against the possible legalisation of abortion, defending the neighbour suffering right next door to us must go hand-in-hand. He or she is just waiting for an advocate, hoping for a voice, praying the banks look down on them favourably. Wouldn’t it be great if we were standing by their side in the courts, in the community and in our church?

It is possible. If we are a pro-life people – a Good News people – it has to be.

Ireland’s Property Crisis airs Monday night on RTÉ One.

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Karen O Huber

Originally from Kansas City, Karen is a freelance writer and expat mom now living in Dublin, Ireland. Together with her husband and three children, they work in community development, the local church and creative arts.