Emily Mullen from District Magazine spoke to three Dubliners about their experience trying to live in their home county, from a young professional back in his childhood bedroom, a teacher who has recently emigrated, to a family struggling to get on the ladder. It was abundantly clear that they all wanted to stay in Dublin and each had dreams of making it their home someday, but the reality of the housing crisis has made this impossible for many.
Special thanks to Cian Burke for opening up his home for the photography for this feature.
There’s a symbol that’s been associated with Dublin for centuries. The city’s coat of arms, popularised by the podcast, referred to as Three Castles Burning. It’s as ever-present on the street as dog shit and discarded coffee cups are. You can’t trip over a manhole cover, clack into a lamppost, nod to bus drivers or walk onto a pitch without seeing it.
Easily recognisable, three structures are shown in a triangle format, each with great billowing flames or puffs of smoke coming out the top of the buildings, depending on the artist’s interpretation. The symbol of Dublin is as inhospitable as they come, buildings on fire.
Created over 400 years ago, the exact meaning behind it has been lost to the sands of time. It was chosen for a city in a different place and time, alongside Dublin’s motto Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas which roughly means obedience of the people produces a happy city.
This combination of iconography and phrasing, once no doubt struck fear in the inhabitants centuries before who were cowed by occupation. Now it hits differently, morphing into a symbol for a city that’s fast becoming a stranger to those living within it.
The impact of this crisis can be easy to call in terms of numbers but the psychological impact of it isn’t. There are endless untold stories, half-truths and wished away stories to this crisis. Many have left as a result, others have curtailed their futures, restricted their lives to afford rent and swallowed pride to return to places they swore they had left. There are the ripple effects too, the parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who have helped their nearest and dearest out, and bear the impact of having extra bodies into an already squeezed space. Identities have been changed, lives morphed by an endless number of poisonous ways until we are obediently in a chokehold sitting in a burning building.
Here are three Dubliner’s experience trying to live in Dublin, the place that they call home:
Aoife, 30, HR
Myself and my partner were both living at home when I was pregnant, we couldn’t decide between moving out and renting or staying at home to try to save for a mortgage. Right up until I had our son we didn’t know where we were going to be living, my parents kindly offered to let me and my partner stay with them in my family home in Ashtown so that we could save for a deposit. I don’t think they thought it would be for two years though.
With Covid we have a good amount of savings but now we are struggling to even get on the market, we had two bad experiences with brokers recently who both refused us. My partner is self-employed so they look for two years worth of statements as opposed to six months for someone on PAYE. He was also on the PUP last year, for about two months so that has come into play. I think the banks are really traditional and they don’t take into consideration where the industries are at the moment or take into consideration that if my partner lost his job that I could cover it with my salary.
My partner works in a trade and traditionally from recession times the earnings go up and down, which I understand but there are certain situations where he is earning substantial money, which will only go up or stay the same, and this isn’t enough. The market is so saturated with first-time buyers that want to buy, brokers have the pick of the bunch with who they help to provide approval for, I think.
The prices of houses is also a factor, and we are in a lucky position that we are able to save for a bigger deposit by living with my parents. But it doesn’t make sense, housing prices have increased, and yet we are still only allowed to borrow 3 and ½ times our salary. There needs to be some intervention from the Central Bank, someone needs to look at this and say in 2013 or 2014 when that was brought those stipulations were probably warranted, but now prices have gone up and are going to keep increasing so the housing crisis isn’t really about supply anymore. I know there are all these plans to build new homes but if people can’t afford to buy them it’s not really going to help.
The starting off prices are pushing us out of the market. My parents are getting older I don’t really want to move too far away from them, I’m all for living on the outskirts maybe like Meath or Bray or whatever but even there it’s all about the competition, for every one house there’s probably about three young couples trying to get that house the competition is so fierce.
I just don’t think that enough is being done to help people who just want a home, not even a second home or an investment just a home. Even though we have a deposit, we are going to have to rent in order to have our own place. I fear that when we go out renting, my son won’t have any security. If after a year of renting when our lease is up, we might have to move to a totally different area then. I feel that we can’t get our family fully settled when we are renting. My parents have put up with a lot, they’ve been living with a toddler and a young couple, it’s not fair on them either, they shouldn’t have grown adults or a family having to live with them because of a housing crisis.
We are incredibly lucky, god forbid we didn’t have anyone to take us in. Considering if we were paying rent for a two-bed apartment, that’s what we are saving and probably a bit more each month. If we were having do to that, god knows how long we would be on the rental market by the time we had a deposit together we would probably be in our forties and then the banks wouldn’t look at us then because of our age anyway. It’s not okay, but I have to keep positive and think that our time will come and we will eventually get there.
We do have space in my parent’s, but we are a family. We just want to be able to go out and actually be a family on our own and give my parents space. Also if we want to grow our family as well we are very limited. To just feel secure and to just be able to be yourselves and for my son to have a room and be in his own room and stuff like that. It’s really bad that if we were in a situation like that when we both have good jobs and we are still struggling to own a home.
It’s the lack of security that frightens me, like where is my son going to go to school? Where are we going to buy? We just don’t know. We are really, really open, I know some people are like “oh no we are from X place so we only want to buy there” but we are really open to a lot of places, we have left it open to A where we can afford and B get. Definitely, where I’m from we definitely couldn’t afford, which is absolutely fine but it’s a lot of places in Dublin. The thoughts of moving down the country just aren’t feasible for me A because my parents are getting on and B I should have to move so so far away just to afford a house.
Watching friends being outbid by like 80k or get stuck in bidding wars has been difficult, they say that buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do in life and I definitely agree. We are going to hold off renting until the new year and bite the bullet, just for the short term because we are going to actively pursue getting a mortgage and they do take your rent into consideration as savings essentially. Now that we have a deposit we are just going to rent for our own peace of mind. When you have a baby you are just dying to have your own space.
Cian, 25, Sales
I grew up in Donnycarney and commuted to DCU during college. When I started working in 2018, I moved out to Aungier Street with a couple of friends. Then Covid came, and working from home was a challenge. The building was old, the wifi wasn’t good and the landlord didn’t help us at all. We all had to travel back to our family homes’ Monday-Friday to work. We couldn’t get out of our lease and had to pay rent until it was up in October 2020. Once the lease was up I moved home, back to my single bed in my old room and worked from the same desk that I had studied for my Leaving Cert on. It felt like I hadn’t moved on at all, that I had just taken a massive step back.
From then until Christmas frantically looking for somewhere to rent. I was panicking, viewing places that were way out of my price range, I couldn’t justify paying a couple of grand just to rent a two-bed with a friend. I thought maybe I will just save rather than pay four figures a month just to pay someone else’s mortgage, so I saved a lot of money in that time and got a pretty good deposit together. I thought I would be able to get a place in the position that I was in, so I got mortgage approval and spent a couple of months trying to view places, putting in bids and stuff. It could be a small two bed in inner-city Dublin, you think you have enough and then a week later it’s a hundred K over the asking price and you just ask yourself “who is even buying this?”.
Since I’m single and buying on my own, it’s just my salary that counts towards the mortgage and it just isn’t enough to buy a house. That’s such a depressing pill to swallow, that you need to rely on someone else to be able to afford to live where you grew up. I earn over 100K a year, I work in sales so I get commission and bonuses. You would think with that salary like that you could afford a house, but it is literally no use, It’s not enough to buy me a house. Even houses that are advertised over 200k, shoot up to closer to 400k within a couple of weeks. It just feels like you do all the right things in life, you go to college, you get a degree, you work hard to save up for a deposit and to still be in this situation is just so deflating. There really is no upside, things are just getting so much worse, even since January when I started looking, the difference in six months has just progressively escalated. Everyone is just ignoring it, everyone my age are talking about how they will never be able to afford a house but it’s so sad that we need to accept that, it’s almost laughed at now, when your in the pub the old joke is “we are never getting houses” and we have to just accept it, it’s just miserable.
You think you are happy with what you have done in your life but I can’t do it anymore. What more can I do? I’m in a position where I can’t do anything else, I’ve done all I can. I make as much money as I probably can, I save, I’ve done all of the steps but there’s just no end product. Then when you go looking for help there’s no help so you are just in a cul-de-sac there’s no end. You get to where you think you need to be and you still can’t afford a house, rent just keeps going up every month, every year. You look for help whether it’s government interventions and it’s just never coming. There’s nowhere for me to go right now, I’m at a dead end. That’s just such a shit experience for someone that is from here and wants to live here and is just being forced to move elsewhere or reconsider their options.
I’ve mentally committed now to moving away next year, just because I might get somewhere temporarily for six months if I’m lucky, if something affordable crops up but it’s completely potluck. You might get a text about a room in a friends house that becomes vacant, but I’m not looking on Daft and those other sites anymore, because it’s not good for your mental health, it’s soul-destroying. Hopefully, I can get something I can afford but if not, I’m pretty much committed to moving away next year, living in a different country and seeing what happens when I come back.
I probably would like to live abroad for a year or two, I am young. But I don’t necessarily want to emigrate indefinitely, but that’s the reality that a lot of us are facing. It’s an age-old problem, we all had to emigrate whether for work or other reasons.
Peter, 26, Teacher
I’m from Dublin, but my partner isn’t when she moved to Dublin to go to college she was living in student digs all over the place. In her final year, she was living in Walkinstown and I moved in for a couple of days of the week and helped out with rent. In June 2019 we got a place at the end of the bus route in Swords, we went to the viewing and it turns out we knew the landlord so he gave us a €500 discount on the rent, our rent was reduced from €2000 a month for a two bed to €1500 which was pretty reasonable at the time. We partially paid an amount to him in cash, so he was only being taxed a certain amount.
There were three of us living there at the time, myself my partner and our housemate. Our housemate’s room was the box room, all she had was a 4×4 ft bed, a desk and that was it. Her bedroom was the equivalent of a single student dorm. The whole apartment was a pretty small place, only 40×48. There were lots of problems with it, we had an airlock, it had mould, it had rats in the bins, it had all of these things, and the landlord’s attitude towards us was “aren’t you lucky that you have a place?”.
When Covid happened our housemate moved out, my partner and I were laid off and were on the PUP for a while. When this happened we asked our landlord for a temporary reduction to our rent. He just said no, “if you don’t pay all of it you are out”, there was just an unwillingness to see it from our point of view, we were impacted by the pandemic and he wasn’t.
My partner is very lucky that she has quite a well paying job, I’m a teacher so I don’t really, it’s not great money. We were doing that for about two years and really struggling to make ends meet, especially this last year in terms of paying bills, getting groceries. Working from home the electricity bills become higher, your wifi bill is more expensive, you are paying out of the arse for all these things that you once took for granted, things like being able to charge your phone in the office beforehand, instead of buying lunch out you are spending €30 on groceries it all adds up. We added it up and between myself and my partner our expenses were coming to about €2500 each month, that was with shopping in Aldi and meeting our friends for some cans instead of going to the pub.
A couple of months later our landlord upped the rent shortly afterwards after he fixed some plumbing in the house and replaced our washing machine and fridge, when we asked him about it, he told us that he upped the rent by €150 on the grounds that we had received “new amenities”. After that we decided to go, when our lease was up in June 2021 we moved out.
We found out from our downstairs neighbours who were moving out as well that the landlord was selling the entire building, so it was lucky that we had plans to move on. It doesn’t seem to make sense that someone can do that and then profit off me, obviously, people need to have somewhere to live, but in Ireland, landlords are really starting to take the piss, there’s nothing driving up the price of housing in terms of rental except for the greed of landlords. Their mindset is “I’ll be sound and I’ll charge 1,600” but you are still destroying someone’s will to live, to have to hand over three-quarters of their paycheck each and every month.
My partner and I are approaching 30, it’s not like we are college kids anymore so you don’t really want to be bumming it, doing things on the cheap. You do want to have your friends over for a dinner party but you can’t because the downstairs neighbours complain if you do because it’s still an apartment block. We used to go “right are we getting a takeaway tonight?” that’s our fancy thing for the weekend done. I didn’t think I’d be going “ah shit checking the Revolut savings there and wondering if I have enough money to pay a wifi bill” or will I have to go over this month. We used to sit there watching Netflix looking around like “is this it?” Is this the size apartment we are going to have if we want to have a kid in a few years, or worrying about asking the Landlord if we could hang a poster up on the wall? It was like living with your mam but worse, you can’t paint the wall, you couldn’t even change the headboard because have to contact the landlord to get rid of the old one and they might not even allow it because it’s in your lease that you aren’t allowed to change anything. So you lose your sense of agency, you think “what can I change here?”.
We moved back to my parents house for a month or two to save and then we left for Spain. We signed a lease for a new apartment we moved in recently, it’s a 75 square metre apartment with a 75 square metre terrace, it’s big and it’s 900 a month for the two of us. My mam asked me how I was getting on this morning and I told her that the work-life balance is better, if you make €1,200 a month here which is fuck all in Ireland you can live on that. Personally, I am not living on that but people do, they live on 800 or 900 quid here.
In Spain, we can actually save, in theory, we could save 200 or three hundred a month so that in the future we could come home and have a deposit for something. Saving just wasn’t feasible in Ireland, you would be sitting around going “okay I have €4 left in my bank account at the end of the month” that’s not really any savings is it? The fact that myself and my partner both had relatively high paying jobs and we had literally no financial security, you would think at the end of the month you should have two or three hundred euros to put away and we didn’t and that was with us not going out spending money because of Covid. There was nothing to spend money on and yet we were finding ourselves with no money at the end of the month.
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