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Opinion: Anyone who thinks couch-surfing in your 50s is fun should try it for a week

People in creative industries have had a difficult time during the pandemic. Actor Jessica Freed was evicted and is worried for her future.

Jessica Freed Jessica Freed is an Irish actor. She has worked extensively across stage and screen.

As part of The Good Information Project, we are focusing this month on the topic of housing in Ireland. This opinion piece follows on from Mark O’Halloran’s recent article about his difficulty navigating the Irish housing market as an actor and writer.

I HAVE BEEN a freelance actor since the 1980s. In good times and in bad, I’ve always worked hard and never failed to pay my bills. 

Like most artists and other freelancers, I have never been given access to a mortgage, despite paying its equivalent over the years. 

This insecurity aside, I have always had a roof over my head – until now. 

Eight months ago, I was evicted from my rented home of 15 years so the landlord could refurbish and re-let the property at a much higher rent. I’ve been on the move ever since. 

This is every renter’s nightmare but especially for those of us who are in middle-age, single and with no family home to return to in hard times. 

Anyone who thinks couch-surfing in your 50s is fun should try it for a week. 

Searching for accommodation these days is soul-destroying. Many properties are of shocking quality – and completely unaffordable for most. 

They are fit for nobody, apart from those who possess no more than the contents of a single suitcase – a suitcase for which there is no room, once unpacked. 

When you get a response to a rental query (and even this is rare), you are told, with great relish, that you are “one of hundreds” chasing this single property – a property so desirable in the eyes of the estate agent, they feel you should be weeping with gratitude for the chance to live in a space in which you need a lubricant to enter. 

I’ve been on the housing list for 10 years and am nowhere near the top of it. 

As a single person with no children, I’m confined to the one-bed list, which hardly moves. Single people, who represent at least half of all those on the housing list, are virtually invisible when it comes to housing.  

As far as my profession goes, the current housing crisis is just one more difficulty to add to our already precarious existence. 

As artists, we already struggle to be heard. We’re continually fighting for the right to be properly paid for our work, to live and work in our own towns and cities, and for the dignity and respect of being regarded as working professionals. 

We claim the right, along with every other Irish citizen and resident, to be able to access a basic standard of living. 

Many of these rights have become so eroded over time that they’re now almost unattainable for many. 

This is as much a result of public attitudes as it is of decades of neo-liberal policies. 

The ignorance of the causes of this crisis and the often-contemptuous dismissal of those who are suffering within it, are quite extraordinary. 

Too many people forget where they came from. 

Where does anyone over 30 years of age think they would be if their parents (who had multiple children and often just one wage coming in) had not had access to housing? 

Whether a mortgage in Foxrock or a Dublin Corporation house in Finglas, if a person had a reasonable work ethic and a steady wage in those days, it was possible to find somewhere to live in peace and dignity. No longer.

Article 43 of the Constitution, states that private property rights must be balanced against “the Common Good”.

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The application of this, is routinely resisted by vested interests. Like food, water and health care, housing is among the basic necessities of life – not merely a commodity.

These things may not be free but access to them should be universal.

Notwithstanding the costs and responsibilities that come with it, access to suitable, secure and affordable housing is a human right.

Having spoken to a number of people in a similar plight to myself, I am most troubled by the misplaced shame and sense of failure so many of them seem to feel.

We certainly love shame in this country. It has served its malign purpose for decades, in covering up wrong-doing, keeping people down and fostering the inertia of the status quo.

This is not our failure. We don’t need any platitudes, pity or handouts. What we do need, is for people to remove their heads from the sand and listen to the lived experiences of those in this situation.

We need people to examine their own attitudes and assumptions about this crisis.

We need to stop discussing the issue purely in terms of property, markets – or even houses – and start talking about what it means to have a home.

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

About the author:

Jessica Freed  / Jessica Freed is an Irish actor. She has worked extensively across stage and screen.

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