The rental situation in Galway, Limerick and Cork differ only in scale to that in the capital, according to Keith Broni of the Secure Rents campaign.
With Galway rents increasing by 7.6 per cent since last year according to the the third quarterly rental report by Daft.ie, Mr Broni said action was required now, rather than later, by Minister for Housing Simon Coveney.
One of the city’s residents, Aisling, faces a possible rent increase at her leased apartment early in the New Year.
“I always thought of Galway as a street party sort of town, and homelessness was something you’d be singing carols for,” says the Mayo arts graduate, who recently secured full-time employment in Galway.
“Now I feel that at any moment I could be taking to the Salthill promenade with my sleeping bag, and the car I can’t afford to insure might just become my home.”
Too vulnerable to give her full name, she explains that she never had a chance to save while placed on a series of JobBridge internships with Galway-based multinationals. “I had to borrow from parents for everything, at a time when they would have thought I should be able to stand on my own two feet.”
Mr Broni explains there are rent hikes pending for some tenants from December 3rd. "Former environment minister Alan Kelly wanted to link rents to the consumer price index, but the compromise was a two-year rent freeze.
“However, this applied retroactively for some tenancies, so there are people facing rent hikes from December 3rd.”
A minimum 20 people sleep rough in Galway every night – including four outside an empty city centre hotel, according to Martin O’Connor, homeless charity Cope Galway’s assistant chief executive officer.
Mariel Whelan of the Galway Housing Action Group, a grassroots local campaign, says homelessness, lack of housing and lack of rental property are all linked.
“Visible homelessness is the most urgent, but there are students seeking accommodation, young couples seeking their first home, families in housing under threat of repossession due to mortgage difficulties, people in direct provision [awarded asylum] who can’t move out, Travellers seeking culturally appropriate accommodation,”she says.
“This is not just about a right to shelter but about a right to a home, and supporting the concept of human flourishing.”
The Galway Housing Action Group and the Secure Rents campaign are calling on Mr Coveney to link rents to the consumer price index.
The latter campaign also wants the Minister to revoke the right of landlords to evict tenants in order to sell a property and to ensure a move from current four-year leases to indefinite lease terms.
Youth and community worker Ruairí McKiernan, who is a member of the president’s Council of State, is acutely aware of the Galway situation. Now living in Dublin, he and his wife are among the many in rented accommodation who can’t afford to save.
“For a 10 per cent deposit in Dublin you're talking about saving approximately €30,000 for a modest home. How are you supposed to do that while paying over €15,000-€20,000 in rent each year?,”he says.
“It's also hard to invest in community when you have no security of tenure, and, ultimately, this situation is creating real anxiety for tens of thousands,”McKiernan says.” Recent initiatives just don't go far enough. “
McKiernan believes “clear profiteering” in housing is a real issue, as is “the operations of Nama and foreign vulture funds. What is needed now is bold, visionary and courageous leadership that radically overhauls housing policy in Ireland. It's time for people to demand that and for leaders to deliver on it."
Dr Richard Manton of NUI Galway hosted an Engineers Ireland West discussion on the Government's housing strategy last Tuesday. Participants agreed that more house completions - down nearly 90 per cent from the peak - are "rapidly needed" and that the State must "step in to build social housing".
However, the urgency attached to this must not compromise building standards, lest the mistakes of the Celtic Tiger era be repeated or responsibility for tackling climate change be shirked, Dr Manton said.