‘No one should have to live like this. It’s diabolical’
The cost of rent is rapidly outpacing wage growth in the capital, causing hardship for many
Mae Robbins in her flat off the North Circular Road, Dublin. “There is very little suitable accommodation for people – especially single people – that is in any way affordable,” she says. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Mae Robbins in her flat off the North Circular Road in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
On cold nights, Mae Robbins goes to bed wearing an old fur coat to help keep warm. There is no central heating in the bedroom. Nor is there hot water. Occasionally, she wakes to find the glass of water she keeps by her bed has iced over. The rambling old house where she rents a single room – just off Dublin’s North Circular Road – has just a single working shower between at least 10 tenants.
Robbins is not reliant on welfare. Nor is she disabled or incapacitated. She is, as she says herself, a taxpaying citizen on a modest salary who is working in adult education. “I don’t think it’s fair, in this day and age, that working people should have to live like this,” says Robbins.
She pays €360 a month for the room, which is crowded with cardboard boxes full of her books, clothes and other possessions. “The rental situation in Dublin is diabolical. There is very little suitable accommodation for people – especially single people – that is in any way affordable. We have to get our politicians to address this. It’s not even being discussed.”
An acute shortage of affordable accommodation, increased demand and a dramatic slowdown in construction have combined to create what some campaigners say is a looming social crisis.
It is most pronounced at the lower end of the rental market. The abolition of the bedsit and a near-halt in the supply of social housing mean it is increasingly difficult to find a place to live .
But it is also a growing problem for middle-income earners. Many are struggling to find affordable accommodation of decent quality that is convenient for work or family. Employers and recruiters say it is emerging as a new barrier in attracting talent into the country.
For now, at least, it is a problem mostly confined to the capital. Rents have been rising at about eight times income levels in Dublin over the past year or so. The average rent in the city towards the end of last year rose to €1,041, an increase of almost 15 per cent over the past 18 months.
For a nation that until recently was obsessed with homeownership, renting has been soaring in popularity. The most recent census showed the number of people renting their homes grew by 47 per cent between 2006 and 2011.
As a result, the supply of rental properties has been drying up. Stock in the capital stood at just 1,500 in November, compared with 6,700 vacant properties in 2009.
The trend likely to emerge in Dublin is easy to forecast, say experts. In the absence of a dramatic increase in housing in the capital, rents are likely to continue to increase over the coming year, resulting in affordability problems for tenants.
Even for those with jobs, rental costs can eat up so much of their income that there is often little left.