Ireland has the second highest rate of rent and mortgage arrears in the EU as the gap between income and living costs continues to fuel rising indebtedness, a new report on housing exclusion has said.
Data across the EU27 shows 8 per cent of Irish households were in arrears on debt, up 36 per cent between 2019 and second only to Greece.
The Eurostat data is used by Feantsa, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, as a snapshot of housing exclusion during the first year of the pandemic.
“In contrast to the 2008 financial crisis, the successive waves of Covid-19 and lockdown measures had no dampening effect on house prices and mortgages in European Union Member States,” the organisation’s seventh annual report, published on Thursday, finds.
“While purchase prices, rent, and utilities – particularly for heating and lighting – have been on an upward trajectory on average across the EU27 over the last three years, the gap in household incomes has continued to widen, leading to high levels of indebtedness.”
Although everyone has felt the strain of escalating living costs, there is a particularly negative effect on those subsisting below the poverty threshold, the authors note.
In 2020, almost one in five poor households in Ireland (17.8 per cent) were in arrears on repayments, over twice the rate of the general population.
Although the report notes some restrictions in data gathering during 2020 for several countries, including Ireland, the available information places Ireland toward the bottom of countries suffering from an inability to sufficiently heat domestic homes – fifth from the bottom of 27, so performing comparatively well.
It does, however, record the sixth highest level of children under the age of 18 living in poor households.
Housing deprivation is found to affect 4.3 per cent of the total European population, and 9.9 per cent of poor households. The severity metric is based on overcrowding, leaky roofs, and a lack of access to sanitary facilities and natural light.
“The proportion of poor households experiencing severe housing deprivation increased to an alarming extent between 2019 and 2020 in Greece (up 17 per cent), Spain (up 100 per cent), France (up 12 per cent), the Netherlands (up 27 per cent), Ireland (up 87 per cent), and Finland (up 100 per cent),” the report noted, showing the sheer rate of escalation.
Poor children have been particularly vulnerable to unsanitary housing, with one-year increases to 2020 recorded at 42 per cent in Ireland, and as high as 128 per cent in Finland.
Ireland showed among the lowest rates of overcrowding among the EU27 (third from bottom), and of severe household deprivation (seventh from bottom), though the latter climbed 55 per cent in one year, the third-highest rate of increase.
Underpinning the experiences of households are dramatic economic shifts and patterns in state investment. The report noted that the supply of affordable housing “became increasingly tight due to the continuous withdrawal of public authorities from housing production between 2010 and 2017″.
In the decade between 2010 and 2020, it found, the average expenditure by public authorities on housing construction fell by 19 per cent, with Ireland recording the second most precipitous fall at 47 per cent, next to Slovakia at 49 per cent.
“In the European Union, institutional investors have returned to the market in their droves in recent years,” it said, with residential property investment rising from €11.8 billion in 2008 to €61.7 billion in 2019.
“In Ireland, vulture funds acquired massive stocks of properties when prices collapsed in the country following the 2008 financial crisis. In the absence of regulatory policies or rent ceilings, these funds are today profiting from their dominant position and selling off apartments at high prices.”
The authors also highlighted that the number of people in emergency accommodation in Ireland fell by “a historic” 21 per cent in the early months of the pandemic as a result of the lockdown and ensuing tenant-protection measures.
“In spring 2021, these measures came to an end, while rents continued to rise for families relying on housing benefits,” the report adds.
“At the same time, the number of people leaving accommodation for sustainable housing was half of what it had been the previous year, due to the lack of supply. The number of people in emergency accommodation offered by Irish local authorities has now risen rapidly again, by 19 per cent in just nine months.”