Landlords ‘gorging’ like ‘some starved waif’ on increased rents - ombudsman

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon criticises State reliance on private rental sector

Dr  Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said  we are now the fourth or fifth richest country in Europe, “and we can’t provide for families”.  File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said we are now the fourth or fifth richest country in Europe, “and we can’t provide for families”. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/ The Irish Times

 

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon has criticised State reliance on landlords who lost out during the economic crash and are now “gorging . . . like some starved waif” on increased rents.

The current housing and homelessness situation is a “crisis of epic proportions” with “monumental impacts” over the course of this century, Dr Muldoon said, and it may be “decades before we understand its full impact”.

Dr Muldoon was speaking at Wednesday’s publication of an annual report by Cope Galway, which provides services to the homeless, victims of domestic violence and to older people.

The organisation has reported an 80 per cent increase in the past year in the number of families it is working with in Galway, at 242 families with 576 children and 695 single people.

It assisted 339 women and 214 children experiencing domestic violence, but was unable to accommodate 258 women with 441 children on 326 occasions in 2017 due to lack of space. It is involved in providing a larger refuge in Galway’s Forster Street, and also provides meals and runs lunch clubs for senior citizens.

Dr Muldoon, who was clearly moved by a visit he undertook to a refuge run by Cope Galway on Wednesday morning, spoke of a “Dublin centredness” approach by media and politicians to the housing crisis.

He described it as a national problem and one which was “not just driven by a shortage of houses, but by an economic decision to rely on the rental market”.

Landlords who “lost out in the crash” are “gorging..like some starved waif sitting at the bank waiting for it to close”, he said.

As a psychologist, Dr Muldoon said he was well aware of the long term impact on children of domestic violence, which was being exacerbated by the housing shortage and homelessness.

Lessons

“I don’t think we learn enough from lessons from the past,”he said, referring to children previously caught in industrial schools and mother and baby homes and now suffering in the current economic climate.

He said he was “appalled” at the lack of change in the rental market here, and the inability “as a society” to provide security of tenure.

“We are now the fourth or fifth richest country in Europe, and we can’t provide for families,” he said.

He concurred with last year’s call by United Nations housing envoy Leilani Farha for a “paradigm shift” where housing is “recognised as a fundamental human right and not an economic commodity” dominated by the global credit market.

“We comfort ourselves with the idea young children won’t remember...but research is showing the impact on the neural pathways” from an early age, Dr Muldoon said.

He quoted author Neil Postman’s observation that “children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”.

Dr Muldoon called for sustained investment in social and affordable housing and a secure, stable and affordable rental sector which other European countries were able to provide.

He expressed some hope that the Government was “beginning to see it as a priority”, but warned of the dangers of over-reliance on family hubs which should only be used as a short term solution.

Some €60 million has been provided in the budget for emergency accommodation, including family hubs, but “ a lot of houses could be built for that money”, Dr Muldoon noted.

Cope Galway’s chief executive Jacquie Horan says “bricks and mortar” need to be provided, and this was echoed by Galway Simon in a comment on this week’s budget. It said while it welcomed the €2.3 billion allocation to housing next year, it wondered how many social housing units would be built.

A total of 1,728 households are currently on the social housing waiting list in Galway city, and rents are increasing at a rate of 16 per cent annually - four times the rent pressure cap of four per cent, Galway Simon said.