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Dublin: 6°C Saturday 27 February 2021

I’m normal, I always pay bills and I've no weird habits, but I still can’t find a room to rent

I’ve queued up with over 30 people to get into view a house. Then you have to pitch yourself, X-Factor style, as to why they should pick you.

Sheila Armstrong

I’M WAITING OUTSIDE a brightly painted green door somewhere in suburban Dublin. I’ve knocked, and some dogs have heard me, but that seems to be all. Inside, I can hear a number of people, and as the door is finally opened, three other prospective tenants are just leaving.

They all have the same plastic ‘pick me’, smile on their faces. One of them is offering to fix the landlady’s computer; you know, if you take me on as a tenant, you know, I can get that sorted for you, no problem.

I’ve already done my job interview. I bought the new business pants. I ironed a shirt. I agonised over heels or flats. And, as it turned out, I got it right. A job offer! After two years of social welfare, interspersed with freelance work and a 6-month teaching contract abroad – a job.

It was to start immediately, and so I packed a wheelie bag, threw in a week’s worth of clothes, and got on the train. I didn’t have anywhere to stay yet, but really, how hard could it be? I had done the difficult part.

Searching online for a place to live

I scoured Daft.ie for the four or five days I had to prepare. I had lived in Dublin the year before, while unemployed, and had happily rented a (tiny) modern, clean apartment in Dublin 1. Sure, there was no hot water for eight months, and sure, I was convinced there was a body decomposing in the basement due to the stench that would waft up from the drains, but it had been cheap and cheerful.

And now, here I was, armed with a job instead of a welfare docket, so finding somewhere to stay shouldn’t be too hard.

After my first day at work, and after I had arranged my pens neatly in order of colour (in an attempt to pretend that this sort of tidiness was typical of my working habits), I went to my first viewing.

Hovering around the street, unwilling to ring the doorbell before the appointed time, I saw a group of kids huddled around something. An auld lad, straight out of a Roddy Doyle story, came walking up with a plastic bag full of cans in one hand and a fag in the other. He stopped, leaned down, and lit the banger the kids were fussing over with his cigarette. They cheered for him, and chucked the firework over a garden wall.

I wanted to chuck myself over a garden wall after my first viewing. An open viewing, of course, with about fifteen fellow ‘young professionals’ vying for a tiny room in a large house. References, deposit – we all had them, so the task instead was impressing the current tenants, proving that you would make a suitable roommate.

Pitching why I would be the best housemate 

So, we stood in the kitchen, X Factor style, and shook hands, and tried to get across in a little under five minutes that we would be the BEST fun, so SOUND, the perfect addition to their happy little family.

Being naturally reticent, my one contribution was to ask in a joking manner what brand of tea they drank, as this was very important. ‘Err,’ one of the girls answered, taken aback. ‘We have PG and Lyons, but you can get something different if you want.’

After that lead balloon of an ice-breaker, I unsurprisingly didn’t hear back about the room. Tea was also on the menu in another flat I visited. I plastered on my best smile and tried to convince two lads from down the country that I would be a fantastic roommate.

They finished the interview with a jovial ‘sure as long as you like tea!’ ‘Actually, I’m more of a coffee person,’ I answered, thinking to avoid my previous mistake. I didn’t get the room.

I decided that I didn’t want to live with anyone if they were going to be mean and not let me live with them. My logic was so circular I could have ridden it to work. So I redid my numbers, decided I could live without food for a few months, and upped my budget. The next stop was a tiny apartment in Dublin 8.

Shuffled in like zombies

I arrived half an hour early, reference in hand, thinking to get the jump on the others. There were upwards of thirty people queuing outside in the dimming October light. When the door finally opened, we shuffled forward like zombies, all the while smiling maniacally at a harassed agent who was handing out application forms.

Twenty of us huddled in the apartment, with the rest waiting outside, like rush hour on the DART. I couldn’t see anything about the flat other than it had a ceiling, but I dutifully filled out my form. I didn’t get it.

My fingers became numb from refreshing Daft. I started to keep a record of the weird and wonderful ads I found. One place informed viewers that they would have to clear out during the day, as the room was used for functions. Its ad featured a picture of a gloomy staircase with a statue of Michelangelo hunched at the bottom. Another ad offered a free room if you had a van and were willing to work.

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One kind soul was offering his bed for €600 a month, as he proposed to sleep in the living room. My favourite was an offer of a shared double bed in shared room, but the guy was ‘lovely’, so what was the problem?

I understand that it’s a landlord’s market. I understand that no one wants to buy to let. But, I’ve returned to Dublin after a year’s hiatus, and this time, I have a job. I’m normal, have no interest in smashing furniture, always pay bills on time, have no weird habits – and I have a steady income. And I still can’t find a room.

I see the scores of homeless men and women on the streets and I wonder – what chance do they have?

You can still receive social welfare if you are homeless, but imagine navigating the realms of paperwork required without as much as a post box to call your own.

Navigating the system 

About 90% of online ads state that they won’t accept rent allowance, and even if they did, the prices are so astronomical the allowance wouldn’t be given. According to welfare.ie, the current rent limit in Dublin is €350 per month for a single person in shared accommodation. If you’re paying over that, you’re living beyond your means, and won’t qualify for rent allowance. I’ve seen places looking for €500 for a bed in a triple room. The numbers just don’t add up.

Students are the other people suffering. ‘No students’ is almost as common as ‘no rent allowance’. Foreign students coming to Ireland for the first time are vulnerable too. Fake ads are rampant, and deposits are handed over only to find a house that doesn’t exist, and a ‘landlord’ that has never had as much as a kennel to rent in the first place.

I’m lucky, in that I have long-suffering friends with airbeds and couches. And maybe I need to lower my expectations and accept forking out a third of my salary for a bunk bed, something I last slept in about twenty years ago. But this housing crisis is real, for many different types of people, and economic recovery won’t happen until it’s sorted. Because when you get a job, you need a home.

When you have a home, you need a job. Home plus job equals stability. If you don’t have one, it’s very easy to lose the other. And if you lose both…

On second thought, I bags top bunk.

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About the author:

Sheila Armstrong

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