Brendan Courtney is here to solve the housing crisis

Review: ‘This Crowded House’ starts as a jaunty property show, but things soon get grim

With its upbeat agenda, sprightly soundtrack and buoyant presenter, it's still not clear if This Crowded House (RTÉ Two, Wednesday, 9.30pm) knew exactly what it was getting itself in for.

Now returning for a second series, that involves getting adults currently living with their parents out the door and on to the property ladder with just the right amount of sound property advice and sassy encouragement. In short, Brendan Courtney is here to solve the housing crisis. "And it is a crisis", Courtney's introduction adds, helpfully.

But as that crisis worsens, this cheery, can-do format seems weighed down by punishing circumstances; as daunting a prospect as a new series of Bake Off set in famine-stricken Yemen.

Courtney still believes “people have choices”: that with enough prudent money management, sensible compromises and all the resources of this show, there’s a roof out there for everyone.

Still, when he arrives to his first door, in Ballyfermot, where teacher and mother of one Leighann Rooney lives in the box room of her parents’ home, one light-hearted quip hints at the scale of the problem: “Laughter,” Courtney says, listening. “We’ll soon put an end to that.”

It’s true. Another couple, Denise and Fred, drifting between a friend’s home and Denise’s mother’s (their seventh move in seven years) are jovially self-deprecating: “If someone asks us where we live we say we don’t know.”

But the programme is less coy when it describes their situation as “living in limbo”. While it asks its participants to consider every alternative, you may even hear “limbo” and imagine an untapped new neighbourhood. What are the rents like and how long is the commute?

Courtney’s insights are somehow more crushing. Of Leighann, with her sights set on Swords, he says, “Rush is her actual reality right now.” (Is limbo off the table?)

But actual reality, like much else in the property market, is up for negotiation. Even with a dual income and mortgage approval, our couple can find nothing within their budget, and it’s particularly poignant that Denise should have put her dying father’s mind at rest with what amounted to a half-truth: “We got a mortgage, we’re going to be ok.”

That mortgage advisers are “looking for reasons not to give you the money”, according to the show’s financial adviser, should come as no surprise. But that the same is true of local authorities administering the Housing Assistance Payment scheme is especially galling. Leighann is deemed ineligible because child maintenance payments push her over the income threshold, something no one here can understand.

Ultimately, the mortgage advisers prove more flexible than Dublin City Council. All it requires of Denise and Fred is a job promotion, a very lucky break and a tonne of expedited paper work. But even with the show’s sanguine assurances (“You’ll get that, I’m sure,” Courtney says of Leighann’s HAP appeal), she is twice rejected. It’s a grim turn of events for Leighann and no financial adviser can justify it. “You’re doing everything right,” she is told at one point, “and the system is going against you.”

This is not at all what the show appears to have steeled itself for, as though getting its own rude awakening. “I’m gutted we couldn’t do more to help her,” says Courtney.

Yet it is a true reflection of how a crisis has deepened into catastrophe. That is our actual reality right now.

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