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Extract: 'Governments made decisions that led to your housing situation - you are not to blame'

Housing expert Dr Rory Hearne shares an extract from his new book ”Gaffs’ released this week.

Rory Hearne

THERE IS A generational fissure growing in this country, a divide unlike anything we have seen for a long time. It is a generational inequality in housing. A generation is being locked out of one of the most basic human needs – a home.

The crisis has reached the point of inflicting major social and economic damage to this country and its people and is even causing a mental health crisis of its own.

If you are in your 20s or 30s and early 40s, you are part of the millennial generation Y. You worked hard to get to college, or complete your Leaving Cert, or get an apprenticeship; you got a degree, a PhD, a job; you pay your taxes, you vote, you do everything society tells you to do.

And yet here you are, locked into paying massive rents, unable to save. Or locked in your parents’ box room. Or locked into homelessness. You are locked out of buying a home of your own, and you might even be considering leaving Ireland (or have emigrated already) because you are locked out of a future here. You are locked out of getting the most basic fundamental human need – shelter. A stable, affordable home of your own.

‘A generation locked out’

But your parents, just like you, went to school, worked hard, got an apprenticeship, a trade or a degree, and then found a job. They saved. Still, in their 20s, they bought their home or got a council house (which they probably later bought) from the local authority.

Many did have to emigrate because of the lack of jobs, but some returned and they were able to buy a home. This was the experience of the Baby Boomer Generation and early Gen Xs from the 1960s to the 2000s. But it is certainly not your experience when it comes to housing. You are part of a new generation – Ireland’s Generation Locked-out.

My book is about the story of your generation – how it has had its future robbed by decades of failed policies that handed housing to the private market and investor funds.

Gaffs front cover

It is about the new generational divide – housing. The housing crisis has been compounded by other changes and policies that disproportionally impacted on you – austerity, stagnant earnings, the shift to contract work and the gig economy.

You are the generation that can’t imagine a future. A generation relying on precarious, insecure work and precarious, insecure housing. A generation that has been turned into a rent-generating asset for global real estate investor funds – Ireland’s new vulture landlords.

I wrote this book to show you that you can have a future in this country, that there is a way in which you can have a secure, affordable home of your own. There is a future where you can plan your life and do the wonderful creative jobs and hobbies you want, whether teaching, nursing, accountancy, photography, journalism . . . whatever.

You deserve that future: a home in your country. And this book will show you that your housing situation is not your fault. It will explain how and why governments made decisions that led to you being stuck where you are. But it will also explain how we can solve the crisis – together. It will explain, I hope in a straightforward way, why we are in this crisis.

How did we get here?

The situation we find ourselves in is multi-layered: so this book takes you through our housing history, politics, social policy, the psychology of home, and more. But my vision and purpose in writing it are to put the heart back into home and help bring about a new future of affordable, decent, lifetime secure, environmentally sustainable homes for all in this country.

Listening to and reading a lot of the discussion on the housing crisis, you would think that it appeared out of nowhere, that there is no reason for it – it ‘just happened’. But this narrative is utterly untrue. Most importantly, this crisis can be solved.

My hope is that with the information in this book you will understand why we are in this situation and how we can get out of it. I also hope it will help you to feel confident and motivated to talk about the real reasons for the crisis and the solutions that can work, to your friends, work colleagues, family members, on social media, and even to politicians when they come knocking on your door. I hope to inform, engage, educate and inspire real change in housing.

It all starts with home. This is not about property or investments or crude demand and supply estimates, it’s about us realising that what we must provide people is affordable, secure and stable homes of their own. That is what should be the goal of our housing system and economy, not the bottom lines of investor funds, estate agents, big property developers, the bank’s balance sheets, or landlords’ incomes.

We need to turn the dominant property economics approach to housing in Ireland on its head. We need to put the heart back into home. The emotional importance of secure, affordable, decent standard housing should be central to housing policy. Our understanding should be that housing is, first and foremost, a home.

Generation Locked-out has been given no choice in housing. Either you accept the investor fund micro-apartments – the tenements of the twenty-first century – the expensive build-to-rent and co-living apartments – with no possibility of buying any of them, and no homes big enough for families; or you get to ‘choose’ to stay with your parents or leave the country.

It’s a ‘choice’ between unaffordable rents, insecure housing, homelessness and emigration. But where are families of the future supposed to live? Where are single people supposed to live?

Alienated

We all need stability, security and hope to live fulfilled lives. As humans, we need to feel that we are a valued part of our tribe, our society, our community – the backbone of a country. But younger generations are being alienated from their own country. The social contract has been broken.

This will lead to divisive inequality, isolation and endemic loneliness. But there is a way out of this crisis. There is hope and there are solutions.

I hope to show that through a change in direction in housing policy, through new ideas and new ways of providing affordable, decent-quality homes on a massive scale (and this country has done it in the past), homes that are also environmentally sustainable, we can solve this housing crisis.

Yes, we can solve the housing crisis and help the climate too. It really is a no-brainer. We can give this generation a home of their own, either owned or rented – affordably and secure for life. We must give them that future here in Ireland.

You can have a central role in making this happen – in raising your voice, in putting pressure on politicians, in making this an issue they have to act on. In this, and in other practical ways, you can be part of making your home, your community, your country.

History shows that nothing changes unless people make some noise and put energy into solutions. You can contribute in so many wonderful, creative and important ways. There are lots you can do that I will explain in the book, from signing online petitions to highlighting vacant and derelict properties, being part of the new renters’ union, and getting involved in housing co-operatives. We all have a part to play in solving Ireland’s housing emergency.

Dr Rory Hearne is Assistant Professor at Maynooth University and author of Housing Shock: The Irish Housing Crisis and How to Solve it (Policy Press, 2020). His new book, ‘Gaffs: Why no one can get a house, and what we can do about it’ is out this week. Pre-order here.

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Rory Hearne

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