New research suggests Irish renters are increasingly unable to afford permanent housing. The findings also show higher percentages of income demanded for rent and just 15% are renting by choice. One expert heavily criticised the “lack of trajectory” from the Housing Ministers, demanding departmental reforms. 

Housing charity Threshold revealed on Tuesday the results of their Tenant Sentiment Survey. Carried out in July of this year, the survey of 150 renters “paints a grim picture”, according to Threshold’s Policy Officer Ann Marie O’Reilly. One large finding suggests renters are getting older and renting for longer. 

Founded in 1978, Threshold is dedicated to campaign for affordable housing for all. The charity also works for “long-term solutions for people who are homeless” and seek “innovative approaches and solutions” to Ireland’s housing crisis.

A 2018 survey from Threshold found that 29% of people rented out of choice, which dropped significantly to 15% in 2020. Likewise, the percentage of income being spent on rent has also increased drastically in this short period. In 2018 almost 40% indicated spending more than 30% of income on rent, which rose to almost 60% this year.

Despite, two eviction bans in 2020, only 46% of tenants said they felt secure in their accommodation in Spring 2020. 39% said they felt less secure in their homes in July. 

Housing standards and maintenance difficulties is a key area for renters, with 53% reporting issues with damp, mould, ventilation and heating. Recent reports also indicate that most rented homes fail to meet health standards. With 25% of those surveyed working from home, such issues come to the forefront. 

“It’s no longer just students”

Professor of Sociology, Niamh Hourigan spoke at the survey launch. Hourigan said the pandemic has seen a “surprising and depressing” continuity of existing trends throughout the pandemic. She predicted that housing will come to shape Irish political discourse over the next five years.

Hourigan emphasised that 64% of tenants are over 35, suggesting that young people are renting for much longer periods than in the past. “It’s no longer just students,” Hourigan said. “Those transitions are not happening [from rented to permanent housing]”. This is having a knock-on effect, with people deciding to form families much later as a result. 

Hourigan also expressed concern that renters are choosing to pay for rent over food, fuel and clothing, leading to a huge rise in food poverty in Dublin. New research discussed by Hourigan suggests the mental health of people during the pandemic has been directly affected by their housing conditions.

Hourigan heavily criticised the Department of Housing, saying “there’s been a lot of outrage” about housing in the last 5-10 years, “but very little movement”. Although praising the competence of the Minister’s themselves, she said they have made very little impact to the trajectory of the housing crisis.

According to the professor, there is one finding that academics converge on: “In the period running up to the banking crisis, the [government] lost sight of the obligations to the citizens of Ireland and became captive to the private interests of those who are coming to their table. Particularly, those involved in banking, construction and property development.”

“Given the fact that we know so much about how we solve the problem, one must ask: why is the problem not being solved?”

Hourigan took issue with the government’s handling of the crisis. “What is going on at the Department of Housing? And more importantly, who’s interests are being represented at the table where the decisions are being taken?” she asked. “Decisions that are perpetuating – let’s be clear about this – rather than solving the crisis.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the distortions in the Irish housing market, distortions which I believe are being protected, and in part created, by the Department of Housing to farcical proportions in my view,” Hourigan said. On foot of these criticisms, Hourigan called for a reform of the Department of Housing to adequately address the crisis at hand.

Conor Capplis – Senior Reporter