Middle class and homeless

I  went to see a flat for €2,000 a month  during the week. It wasn’t dripping with opulence and luxury as you should expect from its inflated price tag, but it’s close-ish to family and where I grew up and lived for most of my life.

In keeping with the rule that you shouldn’t spend more 30pc of your income on accommodation per month, I figured that if I pay around €2,000 for the lower end of the two bedroom market in the D7, D8, D2, D6 area, I need to have after tax earnings of €6,000 and annual pre tax and USC earnings exceeding €120,000.

I’ve never been excluded from the housing market in Dublin before, no matter how broke I was in the past, but now I’m f*****.

As a single parent, I can’t houseshare with a bunch of students, or live in a damp, crumbling cottage in the middle of nowhere and spend the difference in petrol, plus my accommodation needs to be close to schools and amenities. Well meaning friends suggested I Airbnb my yet to be rented property, but I’d have to pay taxes and be a chamber maid in my own home to cover the costs of the second person who is required for living in Ireland these days. Single people have been completely priced out of the market.

When you come from a middle class background, however you’re not allowed to complain. Unless you’re living in a rolled up newspaper in a septic tank, you’re just suffering from first world problems. A bedsit the size of a kitty litter  go move in and shut up about it, heady commentators would suggest.

I chatted to some of my friends in similar situations-, the ‘hidden homeless’, who work as professionals, but can’t afford to live in rented accommodation in their home city.

‘Dave,’ 45, a well known and superbly talented musician friend told me he will be homeless starting this week, because he couldn’t find anywhere in Dublin for his €1200 a month  budget.

“Its dire. My daughter, who stays part-time, my dog and I have been living in an office with no heating, no kitchen, no shower, no wifi for €225 per week. I was offered to stay on in a corner of the room for an extra €25 a week, while it’s being renovated, but declined because its inhumane. As prices have gone up, dignity has gone down.”

“I can’t leave Dublin, because this is where the money is, but I can’t afford to live here – my new reality. To top it off people don’t like paying for music anymore. They expect it for free. The cultural climate is dog eat dog.”

“I’ve never been on welfare but soon, I’ll be living in a squat, my only offer so far. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I just reminisce when we all just used to find places to rent like it was normal.  We didn’t know how good we had it.”

“Audrey,’ 33, a single mother of a seven year old girl has been couchsurfing for six months. “Our rent went from €850 to €1850 in five years. We had to move. It’s mad to think that I’m the new face of homelessness,” she says. “I’m from Rathgar, have a fancy accent and recently completed a Trinity College degree, but soon I won’t have a roof over my head again. I’ve worked all my life. I don’t know what went wrong.”

‘Audrey,’ went to college because she was always working nights, but I couldn’t afford babysitters anymore. “I needed a career change, now I’m worried I may have made a mistake. Even when I get a job in my new career, I’ll be on a starter salary and won’t be able to afford childcare, rent, bills etc..”

“We have been living out of a suitcase in a friend’s apartment for the past three months, but soon have to vacate again,” she says.

“We’ll need a deposit, first month’s rent and then rent again – all within a month. I can’t save that kind of money. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Plus landlords don’t like single parents. There’s still a huge stigma,” she adds.

My friend ‘Jan,’ 39, a fellow journalist says living at home is her only option. “My mother worked as a journalist and she had her own house by the time she was my age. I get paid less now than ten – fifteen years ago, but rents are double and competition is furious. If it weren’t for my family, I’d be teetering on the edge of homelessness, because as a freelancer my salary is so inconsistent. It’s not what I expected for my soon to be 40s, but its the norm these days.”

We’re at a tipping point. By not being able to find suitable accommodation now, our children won’t even have the luxury of living with us as adults when they fall on tough times.

The blatant greed of Irish landlords is unrivalled in other European countries and what’s happening is not just extortion, but often illegal. Rents simply must be capped and regulated properly, like they are in Germany and other well functioning nations. I don’t care if you bought negative equity investment property in 2007, it’s not up to me to pay for it. The members of our government’s houses are paid for so they couldn’t give less of a shit. Plus they are often landlords themselves, so it suits them.

We marched for water charges, which is fair enough, yet we are willing to be buggered by greedy landlords. I don’t get it.

‘Ireland’s property crisis’, a show on RTE 1 tomorrow night will highlight the reality of homelessness and the difficulty of trying to buy. According to figures released by the department of housing, there were 7,421 homeless people in Ireland last month, but real figures are much higher. Our hidden homeless are squatting, sleeping on friend’s couches, living in their vans and they’re working, paying taxes.

During the glorious 80s we had homes, but few job opportunities, now we have more job opportunities, more competition, but no homes. I’d love to go back.

I was born in the mid 1970s when there were 4bn people on the planet, now there are 7.5bn, when my daughter is my age there will be 10bn or more. So no matter who’s in charge, things will never be the same again. Its depressing and for the first time in my life- on the subject of housing,  I’m all out of answers.