Comment & Analysis: There is a serious housing crisis in Ireland. This is unlikely to be news to anyone living on the island, and most of us are aware of its effects. They are myriad, and all horrible. What distresses me most is the network of small cracks that runs from the impact of the “rent forever” rock thrown at many people’s lives. Take, for instance, the lack of a pet.
There are many likely health benefits to having a pet — almost any pet. The vast majority of rentals do not permit pet ownership. When a person is locked out of pet ownership, they are deprived of that benefit. It is a really good example of how inequality and servitude to greed (I believe that is at the heart of the crisis) has a vast network of negative impacts on those drawing the short straw that we often don’t see, and don’t think of, but accumulate into a significant disadvantage.
My husband and I rented in Dundalk from the day we arrived in Ireland almost nineteen years ago. We had made peace with the likelihood that we would have to keep renting until we retired, and hoped then to have saved enough to buy a home of our own somewhere in the countryside, when we no longer needed to be in the commuter belt to be able to work.
Within a week of pandemic restrictions hitting, he realised that he can do his job from anywhere with decent internet and I was already working from home. We didn’t need to wait until we retired: there was a chance we could find something we could afford outside of the expensive commuter zone. We now live in a tiny town in Cavan, population around 1,500 at last count, finally in a home we own.
Having our own house has been amazing, but included in the price we paid was forced car dependence. We recently got e-bikes and hope to leave our car behind more often. However, it takes a committed enthusiast to even reduce your car dependence where we live, never mind end it.
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In Dundalk, we were able to get by without a car for eight years. Though there were challenges, it was at least doable, due to good public transport links and life essentials within walking or biking distance. Where we lived I could get to a Lidl, an Aldi, a Tesco, and a Dunnes within five, maximum ten minutes’ walk. Now, my closest major supermarkets are all about 20 minutes drive away (mostly on a national road with 100km/h speed limit).
I’ve struggled with fitness for the first time in my life because there is just so little opportunity for incidental exercise.
This means that a lifestyle that allows you to feel good about reducing your carbon footprint, and reap the health benefits of reduced driving and increased active travel, is reserved for those who can afford to live in increasingly expensive commuter zones.
It is an additional unfair consequence of the inequality and greed-servitude that has been the core philosophy of those in power for decades: the richer you are, the more likely you are to be able to live a lifestyle that has myriad positive impacts on your life.
The poorer you are, the more likely you are to have longer commutes which reduce happiness and negatively impact health, and also have less opportunity to walk or bike which improves your health directly and improves health in the community generally due to a reduction in pollution.
You are forced to own a car: Our transport costs went from almost nothing to several thousand euro per year, and this is with both of us working from home — I shudder to think what the cost is to those who commute to their workplaces, because of course, available jobs tend to be in and around cities.
Though higher mortgage costs or rents likely wipe out this advantage for anyone opting to live car-free where it’s possible, it is still an undeniable cost forced on those who can’t afford to live where they don’t have to drive.
Inequality is a cancer. Its rot crawls into every aspect of our lives, and so often we don’t even realise the burden on us until we really think about it. Step one to push back is to open our eyes.