Has the Republic of Ireland exchanged one set of ruthlessly exploitative colonial landlords for another?
Who's behind the white-hot Dublin rental market? It's unarguable now that it's an unwelcome combination of greedy homegrown landlords and international vulture funds.
The first crowd control most of the rental market and the second crowd swoop in and buy up everything that goes on sale, outbidding local homebuyers with their much deeper pockets, then driving prices further up.
“If something isn’t done to tip the balance in favor of homeownership and disadvantage Investment Funds, we will be tenants again, like we were a hundred years ago. The only difference is our landlords will be investment funds based in London or New York.”
So said Minister Billy Kelleher last week, just after it was confirmed that a global property investment firm snapped up most of a new 170 home estate in County Kildare. This is Kildare mind you, not the city center, so you can appreciate just how deep a bite these overseas landlords are taking of the Irish property market.
A property investment firm with a one billion Euro war chest pushed out first-time buyers by purchasing most of the 170-homes in the Dublin commuter belt. Another swooped in to buy up a 120 unit estate this week.
Believing that the Irish government is neither serious about increasing the supply of new homes or in taxing them for their massive purchases (Minister Kelleher is a member of the ruling party, he should really look to himself for solutions) they see these property investments as a safe bet and the Irish government is doing nothing to disabuse them of this idea.
"You are taking these homes away from the buyers" @LouiseByrneNews speaks to Peter Melrose, a disappointed first-time buyer who was hoping to purchase a home in Mullen Park in Maynooth | #rtept | Read more: https://t.co/2PYeEtOx6A pic.twitter.com/ap46ryrlMG— RTÉ Prime Time (@RTE_PrimeTime) May 4, 2021
I'm not the first to remark how the shadow of history keeps falling over Ireland. One hundred years on from the partition of the island this week, we are still working out how to live in peace and step out of the long shadow of British colonialism.
Forever raising the rents to raise their own incomes, they have turned our capital city into an unaffordable pipe dream for most young renters and Dublin itself has become a byword for overinflated property values on the world market.
The city center itself has become a miasma of middle range hotels and Airbnbs, pricing out the young Irish people who used to give the place such vibrancy and a sense of community, and instead, turning the place into a transient and half lifeless no man's land after dark.
In the 1980s, the famous Harcourt Street on the city's south side (near St. Stephen's Green) was a lively student haven filled with clubs, pubs, and student flats. It was filled with life and character at all hours.
NEW: Proposals under the government's affordable housing scheme would cap the cost of an 'affordable home' at €450,000 in Dublin City and Dún Laoghaire, the two most expensive areas in the plan. Idea still subject to Central Bank approval.— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) May 4, 2021
But now it's been colonized by boutique hotels and has become just a place people pass through on the Luas (the tram) on their way to the outer suburbs where they still can actually afford to live. You can hear a pin drop in the place at night now. The life has mostly gone out of it. Sometimes greed can look and sound like a magic spell.
But it's not a small thing, this increasingly limited supply of affordable accommodation going to the highest overseas bidder. It's not just a matter of economics and investment. Supply spells life. Having the younger generation postponing homeownership, postponing having a family, turning them all into tax and wage drones for someone else, is a stupid way to run a country in the long term.
The only fix is a national government-funded campaign to build affordable, desirable neighborhoods - and a total ban on vulture funds. The fact that the Republic is not doing either is leading to birth rates dropping and mental health issues climbing. Everything always connects.
One hundred years ago, we had a revolution to bring an end to our overseas exploitation. One hundred years later, our own homegrown landlord class now competes with much deeper-pocketed global investment firms in our continued exploitation.
Capable young people who might have helped the Republic step out of the long shadow of colonial exploitation are instead still being forced out, courtesy once again of unaffordable futures in the land they love.
There has been no government plan to halt the flight of the next generation. They are seen by our own property-owning class as collateral damage in-game that even they are losing traction in now.
But home is the most emotive word in the Irish lexicon. It means more than a house and land. It means the island that we are forever losing again and again to greed and exploitation.