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Opinion I am one of 'generation rent' - it sounds like a joke but we've stopped laughing

Conor Brummell says young people in Ireland feel they’ve been forgotten by all on the political spectrum.

THE NARRATIVE ON the housing crisis took an Orwellian turn recently when Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys announced that a new pension scheme would be needed to allow ‘generation rent’ to afford housing upon their retirement.

The scheme is partly in response to an ERSI think tank report from 2021 stating that home ownership in Ireland is in big decline, although it had been becoming clearer to the public and to the Government over the past few years that there will be a cohort of people unable to pay rent under the current pension scheme in the future.

The pension scheme as it currently stands has already been deemed “unsustainable” and many talks have centred around raising the pension age to ease some of the financial burdens on the State. This is a worrying prospect for Ireland as a country, as already there is a higher rate of poverty for over 65s, according to ALONE, than there was at the time of the economic crash in 2008. What will it be like in two decades?

Talking about my generation

As a member of ‘generation rent’, to hear the government proposing a scheme like this is immediately frustrating and deeply disheartening. It’s almost as if politicians in Ireland have resigned to the fact that there are many who will be locked out of home ownership for life.

The Government’s attitude to the housing crisis seems to show that this problem is somehow unsolvable and that nothing can or will be done about it.

Despite the publication of the Government’s Housing for All plan last September, and a promise that 300,000 houses would be delivered by 2030 (which is 33,000 per year), there is still frustration among every age group about the accessibility and affordability of housing.

There is a dark cloud hanging above the nation and it tells us that there is not enough being done, and it is not being done quickly enough. House prices increased by 14.4% throughout 2021, which is almost back to Celtic Tiger levels, and it’s being estimated that the current house price inflation will stay in double digits throughout the rest of 2022.

Creaking at the seams

The idea that the Government are going to start taxing the owners of vacant properties around the country will prove insufficient to get people into homes, as many of those buildings are derelict and will require huge amounts of money to refurbish.

There is also the belief that the Government’s Housing for All plan will not be sufficient to meet the needs of the country. According to a Social Justice Ireland report last year, the 90,000 social homes promised under the housing plan would not be enough to “eliminate homelessness by 2030” as the Government has promised.

Even if those 90,000 social homes are delivered by 2030, there were 61,880 people on social housing lists in 2020. In the last week of January 2022, there were 9,150 people in homeless emergency accommodation. Adding these figures to the expected 40,000 Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war to Ireland and a promise to house 6,723 asylum seekers who are still currently in Direct Provision, the strain on the current housing crisis is going to get a lot worse in the coming months and years.

The Department of Housing admitted in an internal document last year that it would be 2025 before they reach their own housing targets. This shows again that there is no vision at the top among the political class for an Ireland where home ownership will become a public good anytime soon.

Schemes such as a second savings pension are being proposed instead of solving the crisis, suggesting the government would rather create a quick fix to counter the problem down the line than solve it in the present. For nearly a decade already we’ve been told that the housing crisis cannot and will not be fixed overnight – and it looks like it still won’t be fixed by 2030.

We are generation rent

I’m not currently living in Ireland, having emigrated to Brussels back in October. The further away from Ireland I am, the more I realise how unsustainable and broken the housing situation is. The constant bad news about the lack of supply and rising rents is despairing, and it’s as if we’ve been in a constant crisis since 2014.

The weekly pantomimes in the Dáil between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Sinn Féin surrounding housing are also not helping, blaming one another for objection to housing at local levels, instead of showing enough leadership to solve the lack of housing on a united front.

The system needs to be innovated, and real solutions need to be provided faster than they ever have before. It’s as if the concept of bold political thinking, anything that looks like vision, is a thing of the past. Why is this the case? We’re a well-educated country but when it comes to making the big moves to fix housing, healthcare and those crucial parts of our society, career politicians who have been in and out of Government over the past 20 years like to keep us thinking inside the box.

Are there many young people who are directly affected by these issues truly represented in Government? When we really consider the disproportion in the age groups of those making the most important decisions in society, it’s no wonder there are still many obstacles in the way of change. 

No one is demanding that these crises be solved overnight or suggesting that they will be easy to change. However, the Government is trying to solve this housing crisis using outdated Celtic Tiger models – something that clearly isn’t working and will never work.

Our financial system is so damaged from the 2008 crash, but it remains the only show in town that is effectively locking my generation out of the property market among other things. Not to mention that our planning system is so flawed and outdated that it seems anyone can stop development just on a whim. Comparing Ireland to Europe, the answer seems clear: do we really have any choice left but to aim for higher builds at this stage? Building more high-rise apartments at affordable prices in cities instead of hotels would at least provide permanent living situations for the many people around the country who need them.

I also can’t fathom why in 2022 it’s still so expensive to build in Ireland when there are alternatives to bricks and mortar – it’s possible these days to print a home, and if you’re lucky enough, you could build a cabin in your parents’ garden. Housing that is not ideal in my view is better than no housing at all – at least then you’d avoid the awkward questioning from your parents as to why you’re only home at 6 am when the clubs can finally open that late.

On a more serious note, the least ‘generation rent’ deserves is independence and to be able to hit developmental milestones like settling down and starting a family in a safe and secure setting that they call their own. Government should be facilitating policy discussions at least around housing alternatives. What has it got to lose at this stage?

Decentralisation of major companies from Dublin would not only take immense pressure off the capital but also revitalise rural Ireland. If the Government used public land to build social and public housing instead of allowing private developers to take over, they could ensure that rent prices would be controlled and renters would not be gouged out of their means.

It just takes the proper vision and political drive for that to happen, which unfortunately seems unlikely anytime soon. In the meantime, my generation will just continue to eat our avocado toast, skip to the gym and watch Netflix, right? Who needs a plan for the future anyway.

Conor Brummell is a young communications professional and freelance journalist. He has just completed a Schuman Traineeship in the European Parliament. 

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