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Monday 2 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Mark O'Halloran 'My career might be judged a success - but when it comes to the property market, I'm a complete failure'
“Our political class have forgotten that housing is a right and not simply an opportunity to redistribute money upwards to the wealthy,” writes Mark O’Halloran.

As part of The Good Information Project we are posing the question this month ‘How can Ireland’s housing crisis be fixed?’. Writer and actor Mark O’Halloran asks what will happen to people who are long-term renters once they retire -  and why successive governments have done so little to help. 

I CAN’T GET a mortgage and if I keep renting my future looks rather bleak.

That’s where I find myself. And I’m not the only one. I mentioned this on Twitter recently and the responses were… well, interesting.

I was told that it was my own fault by people who owned their own homes, so who was I to argue.

Others told me that I’d obviously been lazy or made stupid decisions. That what I needed to do was to move or get another job or change career. Learn to drive and leave the city. Live in Longford, they told me.

Really? I mean, it’s probably lovely, but I know no-one there. 

Fundamentally I don’t want to commute over three hours into a city that I’ve called home my entire adult life. A city that has been central to my creative work.

And besides, I can’t get a mortgage for a property in Longford either so what the fuck are we talking about?

Stop expecting hand-outs – another person told me that. But I don’t expect hand-outs. I never have. Yes, I work in the arts and am very proud of that fact. But most of my contracts are in the private sector (some of these Twitter geniuses should try that for a change).

It can be a tough slog getting by in the TV and film world. Being a freelance writer you have to constantly produce to a high standard or you’re dropped. You move from contract to contract with no guarantees. And it can be quite savage. But I have survived and done well in this world and this makes me happy.

But who am I kidding – it is still a career in the arts. That’s all a mortgage broker sees before they close over my file and shake their heads.

I mean, what in the hell was I thinking? A friend of mine once said that being an artist was “the most important way imaginable not to make a living”. Except I have made a living. I am not in receipt of welfare or HAP or PUP (though I believe welfare is vitally important to a healthy society).

I’ve been lucky enough to pay my own rent and earn my own keep all these years. Yes, sometimes it has been hand-to-mouth. But of late I’ve been lucky enough to have a few quid in the bank. And I’ve had some success too. I’ve won awards. My work has been seen around the world and has had an impact, I believe.

I say all this, not to blow my own trumpet, but simply to lay out the facts. I have no regrets. I’ve worked hard and I’ve created films and plays and roles that I’m very proud of. In some quarters my career might be judged a success.

But when it comes to the property market, I’m a complete failure, of course. I rent and will, most likely, never my own home.

I’m one of those people doomed to live amongst other people’s furniture. The type of guy who has to ask, at the age of 51, for permission to own a cat. It’s sort of funny really. Except it’s not, ’cause now I’m afraid for the future. And with good cause.

As I’ve said, I can’t get a mortgage, I am judged too high a risk.

My work is seen to be uncertain. I am single. My earning potential erratic or not sufficient. (Or some such bullshit). So, I am doomed to the Dublin rental market instead – which I characterise as a small, polluted, pond infested with drunken sharks and profiteers.

My rent is almost €2,000 a month. It’s the going rate. It pays for a tiny one-bedroom house with a small back room that I use as an office. And I absolutely love it here.

The community I am part of is amazing. I have great neighbours and I appreciate them hugely. It does seem odd though that the rent I pay (that I have not nor never can miss) would easily pay for a mortgage on a place like this. But as I’ve said, I don’t qualify. And so instead, I piss a huge proportion of my income away on rent each month and each year another 4% is added.

I guess I’m OK for the moment though. I can afford this place for the time being. I have plenty of work coming in. But what does the future hold for people like me?

For people essentially locked out of the housing market, what happens when we get too old or infirm or can no longer work (because make no bones about it – people in my position can never plan a retirement)?

What happens when we, in our dotage, are priced out of the rental market? Because this is the future for a hell of a lot of us. It’s a fact that’s never talked about, though. It seems unworthy of official policy position or future planning. People like me will have to face this alone. That is the reality.

So, when I’m old, after having spent more money on rent in my lifetime than most people will have on their entire mortgage, where will I find myself? Who the fuck knows?

We, renters, have no rights worth talking about. It seems we’re destined to be repeatedly kicked in the arse and made to say thank you for it. And all this has been the choice of our policymakers.

Property has been made into an investment opportunity for those on the inside and the rest of us are left to swing.

There is little, if any, difference between our last two housing ministers. They both followed the same failed policies.

They tinker around at the edges and look surprised when their meagre efforts fail. In fact, under both these men, the problems in the housing sector have gotten demonstrably worse.

In my job, a track record like that would see me fired immediately. But Irish politics doesn’t work like that.

So, in short, there is no hope for a political solution that will prioritise the following; fair rent and security of tenure; a commitment to build public/social housing; protection for citizens against the abuses of vulture funds; prioritising of communities; bringing fairness to the market; banning land and property hoarding; or ending the special relationship between government and amoral developers.

None of it will happen. The city and the country is fucked, basically. Our political class have forgotten that housing is a right and not simply an opportunity to redistribute money upwards to the wealthy.

So anyway, this is where I find myself – and in answer to some of my Twitter responders – yes, it is my own fault. And the fault of others in the same position as me.

It is the fault too of the homeless and the working poor and our many distressed communities. It is our fault for believing that the political system is serious about delivering desperately needed change.

It is our fault for not accessing ‘the bank of mum and dad’, for not believing that €450,00 is an affordable home, for thinking we have a right to a roof over our heads.

And most of all it is our fault for putting up with this bullshit.

Mark O’Halloran is an actor and writer. 

This is part of The Good Information Project, which 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.