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VOICES

Opinion I've been rejected by the government's Cost Rental Scheme again - it's time to emigrate

Jess Ní Mhaoláin tried everything she could to be accepted by the government’s cost rental scheme — she has had no luck.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Feb

LAST WEEK I was mindlessly scrolling through the phone and got a text from ‘Keyholder’ to say they wanted supporting documents.

I honestly thought it was a scam text, the only time I’d gotten a text from ‘Keyholder’ before was when I’d been applying through the Land Development Agency (LDA)’s Cost Rental Scheme. And I’d already failed at round one for two different locations, so it was hardly them?

I checked my emails, I’ve never wanted an email account to load so fast in my life. But yes, it was true. The LDA had gone through their list of applicants from the lottery in numerical order, and here I was – I’d been given a reprieve. One of the chosen ones, I was asked to take part in Round Two.

How it works

As part of the Cost Rental Scheme, you go through three rounds. Round One is a lottery, where names are drawn at random from people who submit an ‘‘expression of interest’ – which is entering your details, your take home pay, etc and confirming that you meet the criteria for consideration for the scheme. According to recent figures, more than 5000 people applied for the scheme alongside me.

Round Two is when you’ve successfully made it through the lottery, and submit your supporting documents through the portal. They include bank statements, payslips, proof of address, proof of ID, an employer’s reference which has to include your gross income and employment conditions, proof of rental payments if you’ve been renting, your tenancy agreement and a personal statement from the applicant explaining financial circumstances.

In all honesty, I’d have probably given them a vial of blood if they wanted it. Anything to get to Round Three where the lucky ones get their keys to a rental with the type of security that makes it a forever home.

An uphill battle

I believe in ‘that manifesting thing’ so I already had my documents on hand, just waiting to be uploaded. Everything was signed, sealed and delivered through the online portal within 24 hours of getting the email.

So I waited. While I waited, I started to get excited – albeit quietly. This could finally be my forever home, who wouldn’t be excited?

Rent-wise, I wasn’t going to be any better off because my ‘cost rental’ rent would still be what it is now. The main difference with cost rental would be that I would be living alone instead of apartment-sharing. But I didn’t choose cost rental for the price, I needed it for the security because I can’t draw down a mortgage of any size – not that mortgage size would matter in Dublin at the moment anyway.

I have been working full-time since finishing my degree and masters in my early twenties. Five years in university, an honours’ science degree in public health and epidemiology, and a masters in government focusing on education equality legislation for people with disabilities. Years of working in the public sector.

Well, with one exception.

In 2019, at the age of 27, I travelled from Ireland to London, where I underwent a total robotic hysterectomy, after a very serious illness that almost cost me my life.
This may be shocking to read, but it’s my normal. At 27, I became a lived-experience expert in hormone replacement therapy, surgical menopause, and how to mentally recover from knowing that biological children are firmly not in my future.

And that’s OK because that is the hand I was dealt. From then on, I worked hard to get back on my feet physically, mentally, professionally and financially. I got back to work within 18 months, even through the pandemic.

My savings were decimated after going to London for surgery because I had to self-fund it. This surgery and the illness that led to it are the reason I’m not eligible for mortgage protection insurance. And as most thirty-somethings will know, it’s near impossible to draw down a mortgage without that.

Paying bills

I moved from Cork to Dublin and moved into a job I love as a policy advisor in the public sector, with a decent wage. It’s not the big bucks, but it’s enough to pay rent in a shared apartment in Dublin and pay my bills. I even managed to start saving again.

So here I was, having submitted my documents to the LDA, I thought I had my chance to do what many working women in their mid-thirties want to do. Live in a place that I could make my own.

For me, it was a lot more than having the freedom to hang a mirror or frame wherever I wanted. This was also my chance to set myself up with secure housing that wouldn’t be sold from under me, and possibly apply to become a foster carer.

This was going to be a big deal. It would be the next chapter. The proof to myself I had recovered fully from all that had happened in my 20s.

Yesterday, just after lunchtime, I got the response.

‘Application Ineligible’.

Why?

‘Affordability not met’.

I was devastated, I am devastated. Even writing this now, I can feel the tears stinging the corner of my eyes.

I was so close.

What happens now? Where do I go from here?

I love my family and I have a great group of friends, but it is mostly the love of my job that keeps me in Ireland. The State is telling me that even though I’ve knocked down every barrier that was put in my way between my health, finding work and my education (far from smooth sailing, but that’s another story), it doesn’t matter.

Even though I earn a decent, public-sector wage, I don’t earn enough to qualify for an affordable rent scheme in a one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Dublin.

I don’t want special treatment, I just want a fair chance. This was supposed to be it. I have waited for years – in a holding pattern of quiet desperation – to start my ‘real life’.

I can’t help thinking now that America might be a better option. Or at the very least, it’s the most feasible next option. Because the holding pattern of quiet desperation won’t stay quiet for much longer.

Jess Ní Mhaoláin works with the Sinn Féin as an advisor. She is writing in a personal capacity.

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