‘The Social Contract Has Completely Ruptured’: Ireland’s Housing Crisis – The New York Times

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Soaring rents have left many struggling to afford homes in Dublin and have created a generational divide. Two-thirds of younger adults in the city live with their parents.

Before sunrise each day, Aoife Diver, a teacher in Dublin, gets into her car and drives for up to 90 minutes from her uncle’s house to the opposite side of the Irish capital.

After school, it is back in the car for the reverse commute. On a recent evening, Ms. Diver, 25, sat in stop-and-go traffic, the red of the brake lights in front glowing through the windshield, as dusk turned to darkness.

It was not always like this. She used to share a house with five friends close to the school where she works in South Dublin. But when her rent and bills reached almost half of her monthly salary last year, she knew she had to move back in with family.

“There’s very little housing available, and what is available is way out of my reach,” she said. “Eventually, I probably will have to move somewhere else because I’m never going to be able to afford a house or an apartment on my own up in Dublin.”

Aoife Diver, 25, has a 90-minute daily commute to and from her job as a teacher in South Dublin after being priced out of a house that she shared with five people.Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

The skyrocketing cost of private rentals has left many people struggling to afford housing in Dublin and other Irish cities, pushing some to move abroad and others to commute long distances. The crunch has left teachers and social workers priced out of the communities they serve, professional couples unable to buy homes and people on lower incomes fearing homelessness.

The recent xenophobic riots in Dublin capitalized on the grievances of people struggling to cover their housing costs and exposed to the world the deep fractures that the crisis has created. But the issue is decades in the making, experts say, and has become the driving force in Irish politics.

“Policy created this crisis,” said Rory Hearne, an associate professor in social policy at Maynooth University, west of Dublin. “It’s not immigrants, it’s not asylum seekers,” he added, naming groups the far right accuses of pushing up housing demand. “The housing policy created this housing crisis, and that complete refusal to develop public housing and to build affordable housing.”

While a major issue across Ireland, the housing shortage is felt most acutely in the Dublin region, home to around a quarter of the country’s population of just over five million. Two-thirds of Irish people 18 to 34 still live with their parents — one of the highest rates in Europe according to E.U. statistics, which put the continent’s average at 42 percent.

The average standardized monthly rent in Dublin is now 2,102 euros — about $2,200, and double what it was a decade ago, according to official figures. With average salaries in the capital last year at around €3,285 a month, that is out of reach for many.

The biggest cause, analysts say, is a failure by successive governments to invest in social housing, which local authorities once built for those who could not afford to rent privately. During the Celtic Tiger period in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as Ireland’s economy boomed, private construction exploded and landlords were encouraged to scoop up rental properties as investments, squeezing out less affluent buyers.

A homeless person’s tent on one of the main shopping streets in central Dublin.Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Then the market collapsed after the financial crisis of 2008. Housing projects were abandoned half finished. Homes were foreclosed on. Ireland set up the National Asset Management Agency, or NAMA, which acquired portfolios of delinquent loans and later sold them at discounted prices to so-called vulture funds. For a time, development stopped, and as supply shrank, prices were driven up.

For years even before the crash, there had been a shift away from social housing built by local authorities and more of a reliance on the market. As building restarted in recent years, it has been more focused on short-term rental development or luxury builds.

Dr. Hearne said that as more people were priced out of homeownership and as social housing dwindled, anyone not already on the housing ladder was increasingly pushed toward the private rental market.

Younger people today were often stuck in high-cost rentals or living with their parents, unable to see a future where they could become homeowners, he said.

“I think the social contract has been completely ruptured for younger generations,” Dr. Hearne said. “In the past, this was when people were getting married, having kids, and now they’re stuck in their childhood home.”

Lower-income tenants find themselves renting privately with the costs subsidized by the government instead of in dedicated social housing. With limited tenant protections, their situations can be precarious.

“You have the most vulnerable households, lone parents, low-income families who are in the private rental sector, and if they get evicted, they can’t afford the new rent so they become homeless,” Dr. Hearne said, noting that homelessness reached record levels this year.

John-Mark McCafferty, the chief officer of Threshold, a charity that supports private renters, said Ireland had “sleepwalked as a society into a private rented sector that has really taken up the slack for decades of underinvestment in social housing.”

“That’s a deliberate thing,” he added, “regardless of who’s been in power since the 1980s.”

A march against racism in Dublin after xenophobic riots in November, for which housing shortages were one driver.Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Twenty years ago, he said, the people who came to Threshold on the verge of homelessness were often single men with mental health or addiction issues. But in recent years, families and working households were often at risk.

There had been hopeful signs, Mr. McCafferty said, that more development of affordable housing under not-for-profit housing bodies could take some pressure off the private rental market.

A spokesman for Ireland’s housing minister said that the government was nearing completion on a review of the private rental sector “and will report on how Ireland’s housing system can be enhanced to provide an efficient, affordable, viable, safe and secure framework for both landlords and tenants.”

In December, on Grafton Street, a bustling Dublin shopping street, a middle-aged woman pushed a cart filled with her belongings, a sleeping bag and tent folded on top, past a shop front filled with glittering Christmas displays.

People who grew up in the city are being priced out of places they have always called home. James O’Toole, 49, has lived in Tathony House, a former factory converted to apartments in central Dublin, for 14 years. But his landlord plans to sell the property.

James O’Toole and Madeleine Johansson helped successfully challenge an order evicting tenants from Tathony House, in central Dublin, but now face another.Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Mr. O’Toole, a community worker, and his wife, Madeleine Johansson, 38, a local councilor, said they could not afford anywhere else in the city they serve.

The couple and other tenants legally challenged a first eviction order and won. But last month, the landlord handed out eviction notices again.

“It’s like we have to fight whether we want to or not,” Mr. O’Toole said. “And I refuse to go down to my parents’ house, their 49-year-old son moving back home.”

James O’Toole has lived in Tathony House for 14 years.Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times
Mr. O’Toole’s wife, Madeleine Johansson, is a local councilor.Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

In the most extreme cases, disenfranchisement can spill over into violence. Adam Doyle, 27, a Dublin-based artist also known as Spicebag, sees anger about housing as one of the major drivers of discontent co-opted by the far right during the riots in November.

“Housing is a huge issue at the center of society, and communities at the very sharp end of that are feeling it the most,” he said.

Adam Doyle, a 27-year-old Irish artist known as “Spicebag.”Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Mr. Doyle sparked controversy last year over a piece of his artwork depicting Irish police officers attending a famine-era eviction. The idea of evictions and lack of access to housing is particularly resonant, Mr. Doyle said, because of Ireland’s centuries under British rule, during which the callous absentee landlord became a byword for oppression.

More than 100 years after the founding of the Irish state, housing is again an acute issue. “For a lot of people,” he said, “it feels like a betrayal.”

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