Soldier's tale is the canary in the mine - housing crisis in Kildare

Opinion

Conor McHugh

Reporter:

Conor McHugh

Email:

conor.mchugh@leinsterleader.ie

Soldier's tale is the canary in the mine - housing crisis in Kildare

File photo

Newbridge is a fair sized town, with a good, broad population.

A former garrison town, it has a fair representation of socio economic groups, from the middle class all the way through to the working class, and everything in between. (In Ireland we’re not allowed to say upper class, we just have very middle class).

This marks it out as different from Naas, which is more monoculturally middle class.

And as a consequence, Newbridge has a wide variety of housing types available — in essence, it doesn’t matter what you can pay, everyone has a place and there’s a place for everyone.

Or so I always thought, or so we all always thought.

In the past few weeks I’ve followed and reported on the plight of a the family of a man who is a corporal in the army.

He’s been serving for the past 17 years and is, you would imagine, in a good place finanically. It’s a good steady job, with a pension guaranteed.

The man’s partner has a part-time job in a shop — it’s not huge money, but between them, you’d imagine they should be able to afford to either rent or buy a house for themselves and their four children.

Well, yeah.

The man, I learned, earns circa €520 before tax per week. I had imagined that it would be €520 net rather than gross. I don’t know what his partner brings in, but let’s say it’s the guts of €150 a week.

It turns out that with their income they qualify for government support, in the form of HAP or Housing Assistance Programme.

The woman told me that between HAP, and their own resources, they would be in a position to offer potential landlords €1,400 a month.

However, their landlord told them back in January that he was going to be selling up. They spent six months trying to find an alternative place to live, to no avail, and had to register themselves homeless with Kildare County Council.

They got sorted with a house supplied by a Housing Agency last week, just in the nick of time.

There are two elements to this dilemma, both fundamental.

The first is that a man with 17 years service in the army, who has managed to earn promotion, should be earning more than €520 gross — or more to the point, should be earning enough to not have to rely on State supports to provide for his family.

The Defence Forces have a significant difficulty right now in either attracting or holding onto personnel. This is, for obvious reasons, not a position the armed forces of any nation should be in.

This man’s situation, I would suggest, is probably at the heart of that difficulty.

Secondly, we have to be concerned that Newbridge, with its broad variety of housing available, cannot cater for a family who can offer landlords €1,400 a month. Part of the problem was that €1,400 didn’t buy a lot, which is worthy of our concern in any town.

Wary

But also, landlords were wary of HAP — for a variety of reasons.

Some, in fairness, had had bad experience with it. But some were simply anxious to avoid coming to the attention of authorities.

The whole rental sector needs a massive overhaul.

Too many people are dependent on it for it to be left to the market to sort out.