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Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 7°C
The car Joaquin and Pablo had to sleep in one weekend when they couldn't get a hostel bed.
# Jobseekers
Government woos 1,200 Spaniards for 'hard-to-fill' jobs but housing problems glossed over
Hostels have become a common fallback option for workers who can’t find long-term housing.

THIS MONTH, THE government held a recruitment event in Spain – streamed online – to promote over 1,200 “hard to fill” vacancies in Ireland to eager jobseekers.

The Irish recruitment day in Spain was organised by EURES Ireland, which operates within the office of the Department of Social Protection (DSP), in collaboration with EURES Spain. 

The service is part of recruitment assistance efforts that the government offers to 117 Irish employers. EURES at large was set up by the European Commission to facilitate the free movement of workers within the EU/ EEA.

Ten companies flew to Madrid to take part in the event alongside representatives from Fáilte Ireland, the Irish Hotel’s Federation, the Restaurant’s Association of Ireland and the DSP to tell jobseekers about all that Ireland has to offer.

Over 15,000 Spaniards tuned in to hear about Ireland’s competitive minimum wage, an estimated 22,000 jobs going in the country’s hospitality sector, and the opportunity to improve their English abroad.

In the comments section of the live-streamed event, however, the catch was clear. Those who had glanced at Ireland’s rental market online were keen to know, how would they find somewhere to live?

“I’m currently looking for accommodation. It’s been very hard. Twenty people waiting to get an interview for a room,” one person wrote, while another questioned, “Is there help available if I move with my entire family? Four people?”

Government and industry representatives addressed the issue of accommodation in similar ways.

“It can be quite expensive,” an employer liaison at the DSP acknowledged. She advised talking with employers before making the move and said that some will put employees in touch with “host families” or help in other ways. She reassured workers that they would have “options to explore”.

WhatsApp Image 2022-11-28 at 12.21.56 The EURES Ireland recruitment day in Madrid was attended by a range of industry representatives.

The RAI’S Adrian Cummins said he wanted to be “very clear about accommodation”.

“We have accommodation right across the country, but in any capital city you have to pay a higher price, I am sure it is the same here in Madrid, accommodation is available in the regions at a lower price,” he went on to say.

Cummins also said that front of house staff would pay “no tax” on cash tips, and that his organisation had good relationships with English language schools for those who may struggle.

Nuala McLoughlin from the IHF spoke in great detail about how some hotels are building accommodation, refurbishing rooms, and leasing houses in local towns to rent to staff at a subsidised rate. [The Journal has requested details on the locations of these schemes.]

Though Ireland’s “high standard of living” was touted during the recruitment event, the ‘housing crisis’ did not feature significantly except in the comments section of the streamed event. 

Rental market demise

Daft.ie’s latest report revealed that at the start of this month there were only 1,087 homes available to rent in Ireland on its site, which is 25% less than the same date last year. The company’s research also found that rents across the country had risen by 14.1% compared to the third quarter of 2021. 

The report stated that rental supply has fallen drastically over the last decade as there has been an “extraordinary collapse in the stock available to rent”. In 2016, 75,000 homes were put up for rent over the course of a year, in the last six months it has fallen to an estimated figure of 35,000. 

There are 33 rooms available to rent in shared households in Cork city at present and 25 properties for rent. 

In Galway, there are 13 properties up for rent in the city centre, and 10 rooms in shared properties, including a single-bed room for €700 in Salthill that has been viewed over 1,600 times online. 

A single room for €680 per month that is only available Sunday through to Friday in Dublin 8 has been viewed almost 14,000 times online in just four days. 

There are just 103 rental properties being advertised for rent in Dublin city centre, the cheapest being a studio apartment with no kitchen, and a makeshift cooking station in the bedroom for €900 per month. 

The DSP says that EURES Ireland works closely with Irish employers to assist with the recruitment of European workers for “hard to fill vacancies”.

Though a wide range of jobs are on offer from dog groomer, line cook and housekeeping assistant to senior quantity surveyor and occupational therapist, often “hard to fill” equates to minimum wage or just above.

In a statement given to The Journal, the department further said that they provided information on accommodation during several presentations and that workers are advised to secure accommodation before travelling here.

Advice on the Irish rental market is also accessible on the department’s site, where it informs jobseekers that rentals are available “both furnished and unfurnished”, and that rentals are advertised in the press, online, and through estate agents.

The department did not clarify how many workers get back in touch with the EURES service after moving to Ireland who are struggling to secure long-term accommodation, but it did state that they provide post-recruitment support, and that any queries on housing are passed on to local authorities.

The DSP has a list of a few sites jobseekers can use to sort housing on the department’s websites, one of which is Hostels of Ireland. From recent visits to a number of such hostels in Dublin and Cork, this option is a last resort for many workers arriving to the country. 

In the smoking area of Sheila’s Hostel in Cork city a group of workers from outside Ireland who work in service jobs like those advertised by EURES shared stories of being scammed on arrival, spending all their free time searching for a room to rent, and sleeping in cars and on people’s couches on the weekends that they can’t get a bed.

One migrant worker ended up squatting in an unoccupied property at night by climbing in through an open window, while holding a full-time job.

Another, Pablo Alias, got scammed out of €‎800 on arrival, having paid a deposit on a house before he arrived, not knowing that the tenants there had already been given an eviction notice.

“I know how to spot the scams now, but when you first start looking a lot of scammers reach out, sometimes advertising properties that exist, but aren’t being rented. They target people like us,” he said.

WhatsApp Image 2022-11-25 at 16.05.18 Pablo Alias got scammed out of €800 when he arrived in Ireland thinking that he had already paid a deposit for a room.

Pablo spent well over €1,000 living in hostels and Airbnb properties in the following month. He had wanted to move to Ireland for years, but didn’t anticipate how difficult it would be to find a place compared to Spain, where he says you can find an apartment within a few days in any city.

Joaquin Acevedo from Chile paid €3,000 upfront for an English language course in Cork. He says the language school gave him no warning about how hard it would be to find a room to rent when he got here.

“One weekend, I spent the night in a car with four of the guys who couldn’t get a hostel bed, sometimes I sleep on someone’s couch as well when the hostel is full,” Joaquin said.

The 26-year-old lost his job at a franchised sandwich shop because he couldn’t work late one weekend due to having to move from a hostel to an Airbnb for the night.

“They said they hoped I’d get sorted with somewhere to live, but that they needed someone who was available every weekend. They won’t pay me for 20 hours of ‘training time’,” Joaquin said.

312716145_781591602941486_2363889375788013463_n The car Joaquin and Pablo had to sleep in one weekend when they couldn't get a hostel bed.

Some of the workers living between the hostels are running out of money, but are still reluctant to return home because they are earning more here.

“You think if you hang on for another week you will find something, so you become more determined to try. Most of us don’t tell our families back home how badly it is going here, we don’t want them to worry,” Rahal Fillal, a Spanish graduate said.

Adrian McGarry is the owner of the Bru Bar & Hostel in Cork city, where many workers live while trying to find something more long-term.

It’s a huge problem. We’re booked out every weekend of the year, and inevitably we have to turf people out. Workers who come here for decent jobs in hospitality or the tech sector have always stayed with us until they can find something, but now it seems there is increasingly nowhere for them to go.

“The people who do leave the hostel are squeezing into smaller and smaller houses with more people, some end up couch surfing. We do our best to accommodate people but at the same time you want the place to remain a buzzy destination for backpackers,” Adrian said.

Akram Bendheddou, 24, is living in the Bru Bar Hostel, where the owner allowed him to sleep on the sofa in the TV room over the Cork Jazz Festival in October as the place was booked up.

“I hope I can stay in Ireland, but I don’t know,” the barman said.

So many people are looking for rooms. We bond because we are all living in the same difficult situation, but we are competing with each other to find a place.”

Theo Galloisiv came to Cork from Paris to improve his English. In the last few weeks he has struggled to sleep as people come in and out of his hostel room.

“I come into work so exhausted, but I need to prove that I am good and I can do this job. Sometimes it is very hard, like over the jazz festival, when the hostel owner let me sleep in the kitchen,” he said.

The bar worker believes that he is one of “the lucky ones,” because he has found a single room he can rent for €850 for a couple of months starting in December.

“Maybe it is expensive for Cork, but it is a normal price for Paris. I was just relieved to stop doing viewings. I went to one where the guy who was showing me around started touching me in a way that was very creepy, I got out of there fast,” Theo said.

In Dublin, hostels are less likely to allow people to stay for longer than a week, as priority is given to tourists.

A staff member at Abigail’s Hostel on Aston Quay said that they have rules against long-term stays, but workers ring up every day asking if they can book a room for longer.

Giovanna Sermandes works at the Leevin Hostel Mountjoy, where she says non-national workers are living “the whole time”.

The Brazilian stayed in a hostel for two weeks when she landed a year ago, but she believes the situation has now become dire for would-be renters.

“People find out how hard it is going to be to rent a place after they’ve applied to come, booked a flight, or engaged with an employer and started looking for flats online, but they don’t really know what it is going to be like until they get here. In a month they will spend over €1,500 on hostels in Dublin.

 “I know Brazilians who have had to sleep in the airport, and I know people who have given up on trying and just gone back home,” she said.

‘Elephant in the room’

The EURES Ireland service is not the only player in the international recruitment market, many private companies are also recruiting European workers.

Gary Mullen is the co-founder of Prosperity recruitment, an expanding company with an office in Dublin, and a recently opened office in Barcelona. He says he takes informing applicants on the housing situation in Ireland seriously.

“It’s the elephant in the room. People get very excited about moving to Ireland, that’s when we have to kick in and tell them that finding somewhere to live might take going over, getting to know people and networking,” Gary said.

Prosperity chiefly recruits experienced workers for e-commerce and multinational employers, but despite great job offers they have recently seen jobseekers turn down roles over accommodation.

“People are increasingly worried about finding somewhere to live. It helps that many employers allow remote-working contracts, so people can live in towns and commute into the city for the odd office day,” Gary said.

He believes that recruiters are “responsible” for accurately informing jobseekers.

“Accommodation is the only downside in Ireland, the wages are great, there are so many jobs on the go but people need to be realistic about finding a place to live,” Gary said.

During the EURES recruitment day, Fáilte Ireland played a video showing Ireland at its picture-book best. Over images of green landscapes and thriving social scenes, a voiceover spoke in a series of slogans: “A career in tourism looks like this, settle in fast and climb up the ranks, great friends and great opportunities, great fun … join for a season and stay for a lifetime.”

While most migrant workers may not dispute that Ireland offers great opportunities and great fun, many are currently struggling to stay for a season, let alone a lifetime.

After speaking out about their situation on a local radio station, Pablo and Joaquin were recently offered a house to rent in Cork city, and they felt like they had won the lottery.

“Most of the guys are still in the hostels. We are just part of a bigger story, there are people like us arriving all the time,” Pablo said.

Despite his determination, Rahal, now on his sixth week of hostel hopping while holding down a barista job, has not proved so lucky. 

“It’s become mission impossible. I think I will have to return home,” he said. 

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