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Opinion: 'The housing game is rigged against the single population of this country'

Unless you earn over €70k or have wealthy parents, you’re simply not catered for when it comes to owning a house, writes Jenn Gannon.

Jenn Gannon

IT’S NOT EASY for the single amongst us these days. If we’re not being made feel invisible during the pandemic with the ‘Stay home together’ lockdown rhetoric that firmly concentrated on the nuclear family and those in relationships, we are also being utterly ignored by the government in terms of housing.

The government are obsessed with my lovelife. Unlike my own indifferent mother, they are acting like impatient Love Island viewers, asking me to couple up immediately or risk being stuck as a precarious renter. They’d have me swiping right on a selection of Ted Bundys if it could just get me on to the property ladder.

They see us single renters living a carefree Carrie Bradshaw existence. Renters as swinging bachelors and bachelorettes swilling midweek Martinis, guffawing into their wardrobes of high end designer wear. We are renting for the lols obviously!

Although even Carrie Bradshaw had a rent controlled apartment, something that seems more fantastical to Irish viewers than her managing to have that fabulous lifestyle whilst only writing one weekly column.

The renting reality for the unattached is swathes of the population heading into their 40s still living with roommates, single mothers terrified that their landlord will decide to sell their home from under them, young people living with their parents indefinitely and those who live alone wondering just how long they can sustain the situation as their savings disappear.

It’s spending a decade on a list for affordable housing or trying to work out if the Help to Buy Scheme would enable you to afford anything at all. Every day as a renter reveals another unsightly horror from Daft.ie that becomes the talk of social media, beds in kitchens, showers in living rooms, cinder block garages/mausoleums ‘converted’ into a space – yours for only €1,400 a month. Travis Bickle had more luxury.

To want to stay in Dublin, to live permanently in this city that is my home should not be seen as some outlandish dream but as a freelance writer with no familial wealth, owning my own home in this city would be as magical as owning a unicorn. I know those in the Arts sector that have been laughed out of banks because the industry is deemed too unreliable.

A friend who is in more stable employment that would be considered a ‘good’ job is also facing these fears as a single woman and spoke to me about the anxiety of being a solo renter

“I would have to pay a €40,000 (or more) deposit and I’m not sure where that is supposed to come from when paying massive rent and trying to not fall behind on your bills.”

“If you are renting or buying a home with a partner then you have something to fall back on if you get sick or lose your job or some catastrophe happens, but if you are single then you still have to manage all of your bills and rent and mortgage if you have one, by yourself. There is nothing out there to act as a safety net.

“Other countries seem to be able to provide or regulate housing developments that aren’t all ‘family homes’. I genuinely do fear that I will be in my 50s and have to share a house with people because I can’t afford to spend thousands on rent every month and can’t get enough money together for my own place.”

Another fully employed friend of mine was sleeping on a couch bed in a shared house up until recently. The government would shove single people into a supply press amongst the ironing board and rolled up ‘Bags for Life’ if they could, such is their lack of respect for the unattached.

Let’s not forget the terrifying spectre of ‘co-living’ that was sold as some kind of ‘groovy’ Googleised commune for “those at a stage of life where they have yet to accumulate significant possessions and have a shorter-term outlook with regard to choice of tenure”: in other words, please Marie Kondo yourself out of existence if you are child-free.

As much as we view ourselves as a modern society there is still a deeply entrenched conservatism in this country that we haven’t erased. The idea of the family is sacred in Ireland. Not only do you have to contend with the social ‘stigma’ being viewed as some kind of overgrown teenager, a desperate, lonely oddball, but you are never considered when it comes to wanting a place of your own on your own.

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The housing game is rigged against the single population of this country unless you have a salary over €70,000 or some nice wealthy parents willing to help you out. It would seem that a home in Ireland could not possibly be considered a home unless it has children and parents together or at least some kind of coupling. This constant grinding state of panic and pressure is our punishment, our penance for being alone, for not settling down, for having different dreams for ourselves.

We have a housing industry in Ireland that is catered towards couples. They fill up Sunday supplements and primetime lifestyle shows where home ownership has been made a prize that is only attainable for those who are in a committed relationship.

When was the last time there was a feature devoted to those lumbered with their landlord’s leather couch? I suppose ‘Living with Damp’ is not as sexy and exciting as chats and articles about garden renovations and kitchen remodelings.

Renters are lacking any kind of dignity in Ireland contending with ruthless landlords, skyrocketing rents, half-finished apartments and a government that just doesn’t seem to care. There is no view to overhaul this system or any discussion about fostering a renting ‘culture’ here because that would mean having to address the rampant greed of private landlords, many of whom are safely ensconced in Leinster House.

It’s as if the government doesn’t believe that people can actually be single in the long term, that we’re all perpetually waiting for our own Prince(ss) Charming. They haven’t factored us into the housing market at all.

To be single shouldn’t be seen as some non-conformist statement. Your relationship status should not be something that prevents you from buying a property in Ireland. Owning a home as a single person shouldn’t be some freakish anomaly. How long will it take the government to understand that some of us single people don’t want to be a Real Housewife before we can make a home?

Jenn Gannon is a pop culture writer and broadcaster specialising in TV and music. She contributes to shows such as Arena, The Last Word and The Brendan O’Connor Show. Her work has featured in the Irish Times, The Irish Independent and the Sunday Business Post.

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Jenn Gannon

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