As I sit working and listening to RTE’s Liveline (22nd September 2021) I realise there is another section of our society that lives in fear; fear of the future as renters. They are getting old, tired and worried and all because they have no security of tenure on their home. They recant their stories of always renting, never having the opportunity to save for a deposit, being a single parent family. There are those with good jobs and one income while one bedroom properties assume two renters when it comes to pricing the rent.
Like the distressed family home borrowers that I work for, this cohort of citizens uses similar words and phrase such as shame, fear of their retirement; a general feeling of anxiety about their security in old age.
One caller outlined how her parents, on one industrial wage, rented from the council, went on to buy that council home and eventually traded to their retirement home. This caller made the point that this was not possible today for most people and that the system was broken. But in fixing the system, she pleaded that the decision makers ask themselves “would I like or want to rent my home for 25 years?”. She pleaded that when looking at the problem could the decision makers address the entire system and not just put sticky plaster here and there. “Please recognise that the entire system has failed”.
To solve these callers’ problem, we need to understand the history as we, as a nation, moved from being an economic none entity to becoming one of the richest countries in the world and I chose my words carefully “richest countries” not “richest citizens”. We have yet to start that journey.
As we progressed from poverty and merged with our rich EU founding members and their strong currency, we saw everyone’s boat rise and moved to the “every man for themselves” form of capitalism. Over two decades we abandoned our socialist approach of ensuring that citizens did not have to rent from absentee landlords. We abandoned the basic need to house our citizens. This period was compounded by cheap money and an exuberance of our society that we Irish could do no wrong. Experienced Irish workers returned in their thousands bringing all that valued FDI with it, the tax rate was lowered to encourage foreign investment. House prices rose and due to the high ratio of homeowners, many became paper millionaires and all felt great hope for the future.
To fuel the party, the foreign bankers arrived, sniffing around at all this new paper money and confidence, paying locals great bonuses, etc. to fuel the party. They deployed their final weapon of mass destruction, the interest only mortgage to the masses, prices surged and then there was silence.
Homes had become commodities, just like gold, Apple shares, hotels, etc. Homes of our fellow citizens, future homes of our children, our cousins were now fair game in the international world of capitalism. In capitalist systems, property owners always win, property means ownership, not just bricks and mortar.
Now arrived the second wave of bankers, ready to arbitrage a people who could afford high rents but could not get the cash to buy. When property is freely traded and delivers a steady cash flow then it will attract a particular investor, a profiteering investor who scours the world looking for the strongest yields, the best risk adjusted returns. Furthermore, no local tax to pay on my gains; a no brainer as they say in Corporate America.
The job of the profiteers’ to find strong returns is greatly eased when competing investors are stymied by local restrictions. Who are the competing investors? Us, the locals, the very people that built the homes, our children, our cousins, our fellow tax payers.
The Central Bank of Ireland has placed restrictions on the us when borrowing to purchase a home while placing no restrictions on overseas investors; how can that be fair? The Central Bank’s intentions are good in that that they do not want the Irish citizen to borrow too much money ever again. Coupled with this they have ensured that the Irish banks’ capital is high enough to support further disasters and reflects their past behaviours, i.e. their behaviour preceding 2008 when this place was the banking wild west, not my expression. While this aspect is complicated, all the reader has to understand it’s the reason why interest rates on home loans are so high, sins of the past, etc.
In layman’s terms, you the citizen place your tax paid savings on deposit with an Irish bank and receive 0%, your kids, neighbours borrow to finance their homes at 3.99%. The Vultures borrow at levels at least 50% lower in international markets. Who do you think will own the property?
Any idiot can now see that the combination of factors outlined above will make it more and more difficult for ordinary tax payers to purchase a home while they can afford to service the rents on those homes.
Now putting aside the stress and the fear of the future that this lack of security is having on our citizens, the current system will also contribute to a rise in wage demands as workers need to fund ever increasing rents. The country and our economy will become uncompetitive as rents rise and that will have consequences for us all.
It is possible to solve this challenge by focusing on how we fund and finance the development of residential homes but it will take different characters than those currently charged with the responsibility. As the Liveline caller said, they have no intelligence. She was not insulting, merely stating that they do not have the skills or experience to address the problem; intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.
I would not underestimate the numbers that are affected in our small society. I can identify at least 550,000+ citizens in this position. This position of fearing for their future. They range across those that rent in the private sector to those with unsustainable restructured mortgages, most held by the overseas vultures plus the many young people trying unsuccessfully to get on that ladder.
There is a more sinister reason why we might not want to define and solve the real problem of property ownership. The more fair the system is, the less profit exists for existing property owners. There is an enormous conflict of interest right across the spectrum of those charged with this significant societal challenge. We all need to ask ourselves, can we give up the enormous paper wealth that comes over time by owning our homes. Or at the very least, can we share it?
There is a solution, we just need to look in the right place.