- 24 Mar 21
By forcing younger adults back to the so called family home, the pandemic has exacerbated the housing problem for an entire generation struggling to rent or buy property. Something will have to be done...
All novelty is gone. There is now nothing to enjoy about the lockdown. Each pleasure is soured by the vinegar of frustration and resentment. Yes, people soldier on, but we’re concussed. We might look okay on the surface, but our society is numb inside.
Young people are among those hardest hit. Their studies have been enormously disrupted, their employment curtailed and their social lives reduced to the passeggiata to and from the coffee house.
Yes, today’s 20-year-olds will, all things being equal, live to 100 and in the heel of the hunt one lost year is a blip rather than a tragedy. There are still 80 yet to come, whereas their grandparents may be lucky to see another 10. For them each year is very precious indeed.
Still, what could be worse than to spend those gilded days between the ages of 15 and 30 under virtual house arrest? To be patronised by the pieties of NPHET and bollocked and bullied by Twitterati and Liveliners to boot – a wretched clamour that has gathered extra spite and spleen over recent months.
This is not to excuse in any way the ill-advised celebrations in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway that generated thousands of Covid-19 infections. Students Suspended For Stupidity should be the headline.
But cabin fever can explain, even justify, plenty. Finding oneself sequestered (again) with parents long after it is natural could drive the sanest person mad.
Surely not even the most authoritarian NPHET ideologue would consider it acceptable, though you never know. They’ve been known to muse about going beyond Level 5 which would basically be internment without trial for the entire population. But I digress…
RENTS STUBBORNLY HIGH
The transition from “childhood” to independent adulthood has a number of key steps. One of these is leaving education to forge a career path or field of action. Another is leaving home and setting up your own independent domicile.
Successfully completing these steps is critical. Failure to do so results in huge stress, and often a sense of self-recrimination, because you just don’t feel complete as an adult.
It was all much simpler a century ago, when Irish plenipotentiaries left these shores to negotiate the Treaty to end the War of Independence. Adulthood began when biological childhood ended. The transition was short and sharp, sometimes brutal. Expectations were tightly framed. Most people left school at puberty and entered the adult world, for better or worse. Only a handful went on to university.
Life was shorter then and often cruder. There was little time for what Jack Charlton might have called fannyin’ aboot… It’s different now. Almost 70% of those born in 2000 attend higher education. This is great in very many ways but there’s a grave downside: it extends dependence far beyond the end of biological childhood.
We’re talking of almost two decades for many. Some psychologists have labelled this “emerging adulthood”, a period of indeterminacy and suspension and, crucially, unfulfilled transition to full personal independence.
Others talk of “yo-yo transitions” in which you repeatedly leave the parental home and return.
This can apply even if a person is out there earning lots of money in a satisfying job. The key issue for many isn’t the job, it’s the insecurity, the uncertainty, the arbitrariness. The pandemic has thrown it all into very sharp relief indeed.
It boils down to this: without your own roof over your head, you haven’t escaped your youth. That’s a dead hand, a massive psychological barrier that’s affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland. It has to be addressed.
It doesn’t matter whether that roof is owned or rented, in public ownership or private. It has to be affordable, right-sized and secure.
But rents remain stubbornly high, despite the attempted controls, introduced in 2016. Whole apartment blocks are sold off to investors and pension funds that often leave them vacant rather than let them at reasonable rents.
Currently, half the apartments in Dublin’s Capital Dock are vacant three years after completion, at rents of €2,970 to €15,000 a month and that’s not unusual.
As for buying, the Central Bank says that Irish consumers pay double the interest paid elsewhere in Europe, a differential they estimate costs an Irish homebuyer an extra €80,000 on a typical €300,000 mortgage.
It’s utterly dysfunctional and reminds one of a scene from Apocalypse Now where Kurtz asks why his command is to be terminated. Willard replies that “They told me that you had gone totally insane and that your methods were unsound.” Kurtz asks “Are my methods unsound?” to which Willard responds “I don’t see any method at all, sir.”
NEED FOR PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE
Finding method to end the madness is a massive challenge. Maybe the new Land Development Agency will discover the key. Minister Darragh O’Brien is determined that it will. However, it can’t deliver overnight.
Everywhere we read about how long it takes to get housing from the plan to the sale and how many roadblocks get in the way. But thousands need a rapid response. It needn’t be permanent but it must be sustainable.
For example, county councils could be allowed to revitalise the “over the shop” scheme by leasing, refurbing and letting vacant spaces held by developers who are assembling larger sites. We get it that the pandemic is still the primary preoccupation even as the vaccine roll-out proves a major disappointment, now threatening our summer of peace, love and happiness.
But the hard yards need to be made on housing even as we sleep. In that, fulfilling young peole’s need for personal independence should be a first principle. Think about housing from the point of view of each individual in each successive age cohort, that is, the 60,000 that reach 21 every year. In due course they may want to buy but their immediate need is simple: a reasonably sized and priced personal space with security of tenure.
Such a notion of independence has been eroded by social change, by the weird process whereby “youth” has stretched in parallel with participation in education. It has also been badly distorted by the pandemic controls. But for the psychological wellbeing of present and future generations we’re going to have to make a change.
As the song goes, “If you love someone… set them free”.
Set them free and watch them soar.