One family's struggle amid the housing crisis
2017-09-01 16:14:50 -
National
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Jude Umunna

Over the last few months, I have been actively involved in finding accommodation – not for myself, but for my brother-in-law Peter and his family, including four children aged nine, seven, five and two, as well as my sister Chika*.

 

All of them, with the exception of Chika, are Italian citizens who decided to relocate to Ireland, not for economic reasons but on educational grounds, to improve their eldest children’s English.

 

I was under no illusion that my task would be easy, even with the help of others. With close to 8,000 people currently homeless in Ireland, it’s no longer news that the housing situation has reached an alarming stage.

 

A recent report by the Peter McVerry Trust stated that homelessness in Ireland rose more than 100 per cent between December 2014 and June this year.

 

“This upward trend has existed for a number of years and the number of people becoming homeless is actually increasing,” the report added.

 

Despite that, I was determined that with my variety of contacts and networks, I would definitely be able to help my sister’s family. However, just a few weeks into the house search, I came to the realisation that the exercise was fraught with difficulties.

 

I was so disappointed when I went to view a house in Tyrellstown in west Dublin. The sheer number of prospective tenants queueing at the viewing reminded me, as Peter McVerry Trust states that “numbers cannot convey the personal trauma that homelessness can bring.”

 

When my eyes caught someone in the queue with a bank statement displaying a sizeable balance, probably brought in the hopes of persuading the letting agent to pick them above the host of others, I knew my sister and brother-in-law had no chance, with nothing close to that amount of savings.

 

I was angry – not because I’d failed to secure a house for them, nor because I saw no end in sight for the accommodation search. I was annoyed because that was my second viewing disappointment that evening. Earlier, an agent who had confirmed an appointment in another estate in west Dublin failed to turn up. Unlike in Tyrellstown, there was no crowd – only me and two other desperate prospective renters. I can’t imagine how disappointed they felt.

 

There have been several stories of people ‘bribing’ letting agents or paying double the deposit in order to secure accommodation. While I have not witnessed any of that, I can definitely say that racism is rife in the rental market.

 

A few weeks before, Chika and Peter were nearly sure their housing problem was over when a mutual friend arranged a private viewing for a three-bed house at an estate in Mulhuddart. However, the landlord who declined to let it to him confessed afterwards that his reason was based on race. He said when he called the referee, it was “an African voice” and he thought something wasn’t right.

 

What that landlord failed to realise is that there are also many African landlords operating in Ireland. One of them I had thought to be a very good friend before he completely failed me. This man, who lives in North America, informed me he had a two-bed house to let in Allendale, a new area in west Dublin. I expressed my interest on behalf of my sister’s family, gave him their full details offered to guarantee their rent, which included a deposit (worth one months’ rent) and the first month, deposited into his wife’s account. I did this the very next day.

 

Twelve days passed as Chika and Peter waited for their lease agreement, when I received a WhatsApp message from the landlord. There was a “snag” in the agreement, he told me, saying that his wife had insisted the two-bed house could not be rented to a family of six. 

 

It wasn’t the decision that annoyed me so much as it took him nearly two weeks, after receiving payment, to be informed - and especially after he had implied from the outset that his wife was fully aware of the arrangement.

 

Could it have been a ploy to seek more money? It was hard not to see it that way, especially when this landlord, someone I’d believed to be a friend, said his change of heart was “purely a commercial/investment decision”,

 

While he may be right that a two-bed house is not conducive for six people to live in, the present housing crisis certainly makes such living conditions more attractive than the alternative. And ultimately, the Government is to blame. 

 

I know the Minister for Housing would be quick to point out that they’re doing everything possible to solve the crisis. And yes, perhaps things could have been much worse without the strategy. But they’re not getting any better. And plans don’t put a roof over people’s heads — only action does.

*All names have been changed to protect identities.

 

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