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Sean Murray: Lifting of eviction ban was my day job — then it became my reality



The idea of the Monday morning after a long Paddy’s Day weekend did not exactly conjure up positive thoughts.

Put that to one side. Into work. Chat with colleagues, decide what we were going to cover for the day.

Politics-wise, it was clear the
eviction ban
would be the only show in town. Sinn Féin had tabled its motion. There were reports it was planning more, with Labour plotting its own vote of no confidence in the Government. The coalition was facing pressure on a different scale to what it has faced so far.

While phoning TDs to gauge the mood ahead of the debate and crucial vote later in the week, I did notice the WhatsApp group with my housemates was kicking off. When I got off the phone, I took a look.

The first message was a photo of a letter that had come into the letterbox that morning.

A housing eviction protest at Leinster House on Tuesday. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

From the landlord. Notice to leave in six months’ time. One of their children planning to go to university in Dublin for the next academic year. They needed it back. All above board by the looks of it. We were out.

Deflation doesn’t quite cover the mood in the WhatsApp group that day. Flurried checks of what was available in the area on Daft. Checking the Residential Tenancies Board to see if the notice we were served was legal. Will we all look for a new place together? Will we find a place as good value in such a good location close to the city centre again?

The answer to the last question was a definite no.

Given the week that was in it, and knowing what colleagues and I would be covering extensively in the Irish Examiner, it left me in a reflective mood to go along with the “this is shit” feeling that I shared with my housemates.

But we’re far from alone.

A five-minute walk away from our current home are the residents of Tathony House, where in the region of 100 tenants are facing eviction as all the flats are being sold off.

Although homelessness reached record levels while the ban was in place, it was a sticking plaster which was helping to stem an even greater tide.

‘Wave of human misery’

The veteran campaigner Fr Peter McVerry warned there was a “wave of human misery down the road”.

Fr McVerry made the remarks in a video shared by Focus Ireland this week that asked the question “where will they all go?” It was the same question that was asked by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald at two consecutive editions of Leaders’ Questions this week.

In reply, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The moratorium also caused real problems which should not be dismissed. People have not been able to move into the property they own.

“Some people coming home from abroad — 30,000 citizens every year — have been unable to move back into the homes they rented out before they left. People who have bought properties, often for their children to live in if going to college, will not be able to house their children that way in September, which is what Sinn Féin proposes.” 

Whatever about the politicking at play from both sides there, the message was clear. The eviction ban caused a “real problem” that would have prevented us being evicted in six months’ time.

Having to pack up and go back to the parents’ box room, or having to pay hundreds of euro more in rent a month, will also be a “real problem”. For families going into emergency accommodation, that will also be a “real problem”.

Now on the wrong side of 30, they are the questions on the lips of so many of my peers and colleagues on a constant basis, especially when you’re chatting to a friend you’ve not seen in a while.

“Where you living these days?” “Oh that’s not bad for that area.” “How many people are you living with?” “Are ye saving for a house?” The answers are a mix of saving for a house, not being able to afford to save, or just carrying on in the vague hope that house prices may go down to the level they would need to get a mortgage.

Anger is directed at various quarters. The Government. The landlords. The cost of rent. The cost of buying a house.

For those often referred to as ‘Generation Rent’, it is a very real issue. Why would an individual or couple in their mid-30s want to be at the whim of having their home taken from under them because someone wants to move a family member into the gaff?

Even when 20,000+ homes are being built, so many of them are out of reach of home buyers because they’re being snapped up by cuckoo funds and the Government for social housing. Picture: Denis Minihane
Even when 20,000+ homes are being built, so many of them are out of reach of home buyers because they’re being snapped up by cuckoo funds and the Government for social housing. Picture: Denis Minihane

Architect Mel Reynolds speaks very well on this issue and had some interesting stats at an Oireachtas committee early last year on the number of homes actually available to those looking to buy.

“We know then that the total figure for household purchases last year was around 7,425, which is slightly less than the number purchased in 2017… That is despite the fact the new homes output has gone up only by 8% in four years. We have seen displacement by non-household entities in the new homes market.” 

Cuckoo funds

In other words, even when 20,000+ homes are being built, so many of them are out of reach of home buyers because they’re being snapped up by cuckoo funds and the Government for social housing.

Of course, the need for social housing could not be greater — especially at a time when potentially thousands more people will become homeless this year — but it all adds up to a market of too many people trying to buy too few homes. And there is not even anywhere near enough social homes to go around.

Also worryingly, the amount of new homes where construction is starting is on a downward trend, down again in February, according to figures released during the week.

All a bit depressing.

Luckily for us facing eviction from our place living in Dublin City, we’re from Dublin and our parents still live here. My parents might have thought they finally saw the last of me, but I know the box room will still be there if I need it. 

It’s not my preference, but at least I have one. If I was from Cork or Mayo, it would not be an option. With market rents so much higher than what they are paying now, Mr Cork and Ms Mayo will be forced to pay hundreds more in Dublin rent when they are evicted. And that is if they find somewhere in time. That puts saving to buy a house even further out of reach.

And that’s not to mention the thousands of families that could literally find themselves with nowhere to go, and soon.

To turn back to the politicking, the Government did win out in the end. This time. They have a few more votes to win next week. And that means this emotive debate will continue.

Her voice faltering slightly and fighting back tears, independent TD Verona Murphy said on Thursday that if she had one child in her constituency without anywhere to go, she would be bringing this into the Dáil and “onto the Ceann Comhairle’s lap”.

And, while the debate goes on, me and my housemates will be like thousands of others wondering what we’re going to do next.

Whether or not this will be the Government’s “children’s shoes” moment remains to be seen. 

But, ending this sticking plaster of the eviction ban now, without a functioning housing system that works for hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland, does feel like a defining moment.

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