A full seven days late, the latest figures from the government show that 7,148 people were in emergency accommodation at the end of December 2016, the highest number of homeless citizens recorded so far. That figure breaks down as 4,643 adults and 2,505 children, and continues the rising trend seen in recent years. Of course, the official statistics do not include people “sleeping rough” (a horrible euphemism) or surviving as short- and long-term guests with relations and friends. The latter group certainly numbers in the thousands as desperate individuals and families make do with spare rooms, couches or the sitting-room floor.
This scandal is taking place while some 198,358 dwellings lie vacant in the country, another record-breaking figure. A significant number of these empty abodes are in the hands of predatory investors, construction companies and unscrupulous landlords, especially in the Dublin region. Keeping the national housing stock at crisis levels is one of the mechanisms by which property prices can be over inflated. A similar artificial bubble to the one which burst so spectacularly – and catastrophically – in the death throes of the Celtic Tiger economy of the early 2000s. Meanwhile rental costs continue to skyrocket, benefiting many of the self same people mentioned above, as one form of extortion feeds off another. Rent controls in designated areas may work in the short-term but there is plenty of evidence that property owners are already circumventing the halfhearted regulations. The price-to-rent ratio in Ireland remains grotesquely out-of-line with European norms, where monthly rental and mortgage costs are far more comparable.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s so-called housing minister, Simon Coveney TD, chooses to waffle and obfuscate his way through the crisis, putting the needs of free market enterprise before the needs of the citizens he supposedly represents. Welcome to the Vulture Republic!