We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Shutterstock/Jozef Sowa

Opinion I've returned to Ireland, I'm an entrepeneur on a good living - I can't afford a home

Eoin Hayes returned to Ireland after years abroad, set up his own business and now rents. He says he cannot get near the property ladder.

LAST UPDATE | 2 Sep 2021

GRADUATING DURING THE recession was like getting punched in the gut – it took the wind out of you.

The hopes and promises that had been built up over a lifetime were dashed overnight. Emigration loomed. Many, including me, ‘took the boat’ and only some (including me) ever returned.

It struck me in later years when I went up elevators in New York or across US railways, I was following in the path of the Irish immigrants who built them. I sometimes wondered if I was walking the same street as my great-grand-aunt, who was a nanny in America and lent my grandfather the money for his shop in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo.

I was just another in a long line of emigrants who had found economic opportunity everywhere except at home. I’d never really intended to stay abroad, and I really love being back. 

It’s the simple things you miss: instead of being ignored by the person behind the till, I have a chat with Colm, the owner of my local shop, or Thiago, the local barista. Chatting about the match, the pandemic, anything. Nonsense really. But it’s those small things that make me feel so much more at home here than I ever did anywhere else.

A good friend of mine who graduated at the same time, lived with me in New York, and returned at the same time to Dublin, told me recently she was moving to London for good. She said in one summer there she’d lived more than she lived in four years in Dublin. That familiar feeling of the gut-punch came back again.

When I came back to Ireland in 2017, I decided I wanted to start a business in Dublin. I had been lucky with work opportunities abroad and decided to invest the money I’d saved working – by then about the equivalent of a deposit for a house – in building a small business advising entrepreneurs on how to grow their companies. I was determined to be part of stopping that cycle of finding opportunities elsewhere; I wanted to create it here.

Repeating past failures

Four years later, I’m an aspiring homeowner locked out of homeownership and condemned to eternal rent. Even a modest apartment in the city seems completely out of reach.

In my first viewing, the agent said the owner (who also owned an adjacent property) wanted exclusive access through the property, cutting off its main access point. The division would mean having to climb out your window to go to your own garden, and only being able to access the street through the garage. The property sold for 20% above the asking price.
The banks aren’t particularly helpful either, especially for the self-employed. A friend of mine sold a company recently, netting a significant sum of money. The bank wouldn’t lend him the money because he didn’t ‘have a permanent job’. I guess that’s what the highest interest rates in Europe are for?

Almost everyone my age (33) I know in Ireland who bought in the last five years has done it from inheriting (money or a house) or getting a loan or gift from family. I don’t know one person who has rented, saved while renting and bought.

It’s now so common, the banks are asking ‘what else do you have other than your income,’ as if my mother’s house plants are magic money trees.

I’m afraid to invest my hard-earned savings into growing the business and I’m putting off having a family with my partner. My friends and family abroad encourage me to emigrate again. Worst of all – I’m losing confidence that the country can change, that its successes of reversing this in the past were not just flukes.

My friend’s story – our story – isn’t unusual. It’s a story as old as Ireland, a story of a country’s promises to younger generations falling apart, where homeownership and a reasonable quality of life are only possible in other countries.

Frankly, if it’s hard for me – an entrepreneur earning a decent living, made possible by good education and work experience abroad – what hope do others have? How will the single mother in emergency accommodation be able to thrive in Dublin? What are the prospects for people at the start of their careers? How can someone on a low wage in social services, many of them at the coal-face of the fallout of housing, build a life here?

What is Dublin without its buzz – the bustling pubs, pints as an art form, the world’s best musicians in snugs and concert halls, the unique Dublin lyricism, the weirdly comforting roar of the Viking boat tour, the hum of a city alive? If we are not buzzing, are we slowly dying? Is a city without the young even a city at all?

Best little country to do business?

I’m bewildered by a system where my business pays more in tax than the cuckoo fund that’s letting homes lie vacant. My rents climb year on year faster than my income rises because there’s little regulation of rent levels.

If I hoard water, Government wants me to pay for it, but if I hoard land I get a tax break? Who protects me from the unscrupulous landlord who didn’t pay back my deposit with no cause? Why is there a difference between ‘affordable’ housing and ‘private’ housing? Shouldn’t most homes be affordable in a just society?

I’ve lived around the world, but I fell in love with Dublin – its people, its culture, its natural beauty, its history, and its sense of community. I want to invest in life here – build businesses and raise a family – but I’m not sure the Government wants me to.

We met the pandemic with an emergency response in a matter of days, but this housing crisis has been in the making for a decade. Where is the decisive action? Where is the bold leadership, the sweeping powers, the speech from a hotel in Washington? Where is the NPHET for housing? The Cabinet subcommittee? Have we become so accustomed to Government failure in housing, they’ve normalised it? Have we lost our sense of community so deeply, we value homes only in euros?

I want to make sure no one is punched in the gut again. I want my future children to have every opportunity this world can give them. But for that to happen, we need a sea change in how we think about homes: a constitutional right to housing, a radical investment of the State in building high-quality homes for affordable prices, strong rental regulations, and taking the greed out of property.

Where I lived in the US, there are taxes on anyone who holds derelict and vacant properties; penalising developers who don’t develop them into homes. Here, we seem content with a city falling into disrepair while homeless numbers climb.

The country can raise money at historically low interest rates – the whole point of the austerity programme – but we seem determined not to funnel that money into creating thousands of construction jobs, creating reasons for the emigrant tradesmen I went to school with to return.

The Government parties would like to convince us that a better housing system is unattainable, it’s too complex or too expensive to fix. I see it differently: dynamic and thriving communities with affordable homes are what we as citizens deserve.

We should accept absolutely nothing less.

Eoin Hayes is the founder and director of Cantillon Labs, a startup consultancy in Dublin. He’s a member of the Social Democrats and rents in the city centre.

voices logo

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel