Life on rent allowance: ‘Mould gets into the toothbrushes’

Mother-of-three living in damp house with son who has severe respiratory problems

Amy Butler with her son Alex in the bathroom which is showing dampness. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Amy Butler with her son Alex in the bathroom which is showing dampness. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Amy Butler (30) and her three children, one of whom has severe respiratory problems, share a small two-bedroom house in Killiney, Co Dublin. It is full of damp.

She gets rent allowance, paying €300 herself towards the €1,180 monthly rent.

In the children’s bedroom, black mildew is visible across the walls. Ms Butler points to black spots of mould on the underside of her youngest daughter’s mattress, and the rotting bed slats.

Green mildew is across the bathroom ceiling and around the tiles. “Mould gets into the toothbrushes,” she says. “I have had to throw so many out.”

In her own room, the wall behind a dressing table is wet to touch, and the lower part is covered in black mould. A de-humidifier her landlord gave her “collects seven litres of water every two days”. She shows a new pair of children’s runners, still in their box. A light coating of mould coats their insides.

Mould scars walls in the kitchen, and behind a couch in the sitting room. The air in the house feels muggy and heavy.

Serious disorder

Her son Alex (5) suffers from sleep apnoea, a serious sleep disorder which means he can stop breathing during the night, and he is on two types of inhaler for asthma.

“I am in and out of Crumlin [children’s hospital] with him. He keeps getting infections and his breathing is getting worse. He’s on antibiotics three times a week, medication to help keep his airways open at night. The doctors keep saying we have to get out of this house or he’s going to get worse.”

She has been on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s housing waiting list for seven years. As we speak, Alex can be heard coughing incessantly from his bed. “I didn’t send him to school today because he’s been very bad this last week, and falling asleep in class.”

He has recently deteriorated to the extent that the department of respiratory medicine at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin has ordered an echocardiogram, citing a “marked decrease in exercise tolerance and increased fatigue”.

In June last year, the hospital wrote to the council asking that Ms Butler be prioritised for social housing, due to Alex’s ill-health. “He suffers with a respiratory condition and requires CPap [ventilator machine] at night...To improve his respiratory symptoms it would be advisable to be in a clean house free of damp.”

In December the council told her the medical evidence had been reviewed, and there were several hundred households ahead of her on the list. “Unfortunately it is not possible at this time to indicate when an offer of accommodation may be made.”

Average rents

She says the council advised her to seek alternative private-rented accommodation as she is entitled to the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). The highest rent she may pay in the county is €1,300 a month. Average rents there, in the middle of last year, were € 1,955 according to Daft.ie, and are said to be about €2,200 now.

“I can’t get a viewing, never mind afford the rent,” says Ms Butler. Her only option to leave the house is to present as homeless. “So I have to stay here. Alex is a wreck. It’s not fair on him and it’s not fair on us,” she says, becoming upset.

Local TD, Richard Boyd Barrett, who has been advocating for the family, said it “beggars belief the council do not see this case as medical priority. Priority should be based on medical and other needs, not rationed on the basis of a dearth of housing”.

A spokesman for the council said it could not comment on an individual case. “In relation to HAP, 160 households on the council’s housing support list successfully secured a private rented tenancy through the HAP Scheme in 2017.”