Today I was up near the North Circular Road looking at a pre-63 building. These are properties which have been continuously let out since before the building regulations came in and for that reason they are often divided up into very small units or bedsits. From this year new legislation came in which means that many of them are illegal because you can’t have shared bathrooms and many other structural issues that make the old ‘bedsit’ a redundant property.
You can still let out a full house, somebody could sign the lease then let out rooms to get a similar end result but this isn’t commonplace as the various rooms are not ‘self contained’ in any way (no kitchen etc.).
Another lady was there to view the property and we got to chatting, I asked if she was interested in making it into one normal home as it had been originally, she answered by saying ‘what are you looking at it for?’, to which I answered ‘to let it out to people similar to how it is now’. I should disclose that firstly I was there for a client, but secondly that ‘similar’ means multi-unit and that this property was not up to code, something which would require massive renovation.
Her response surprised me though, she said ‘I could never profit from something like that’. Initially I thought she meant that she wouldn’t make a good landlord, and from what I have seen in my life not everybody is cut out for it, you can’t be a push-over, you can’t be a terror, it takes a lot of personal touch, attention, work, ethical dealings with people even when they frustrate you and compliance with both taxation and regulatory law.
That wasn’t what she meant, she meant that anybody who owns such a property is basically a bad person.
This came out as I told the estate agent the property was not up to scratch and my client probably wouldn’t make an offer, during that exchange she said that it was disgraceful that people are forced to live in those conditions and that they live there because they have nowhere else to go.
My normal response (and the one I gave) is that cheap housing has a market, a demand and a purpose, the alternative (if you believe in the pipe-dream that our state can provide all the housing needed don’t bother reading on) is homelessness, and that nobody is really ‘forced’ to live anywhere, many people in bedsits could go and rent out a full house in Longford for half the price they pay for a one room bedsit.
I even made a suggestion, she could buy the property, make it into just two units which would be nice and big and rehouse all some of the people there for the same rent for which they rent out a one bed, this idea was declined, because it had to be declined, moral outrage is free, actual solutions come with a cost, it’s far easier to decry something than fix it.
The implication is always that we have evil landlords making people live in deplorable conditions, and while that is true (once you have enough people in any sector there will be bad apples, the same as we have evil clowns, evil teachers, evil shopkeepers etc.), the solution is the regulations that we have, certain standards are required and they should be implemented and sanctions should apply when they are not met.
There is no ‘evil house’ unless it’s Amityville House’ and there are evil landlords but they might be evil anyway, they might be doing wrong elsewhere in their lives too but we don’t know about it. Again, is the answer to say small housing units are wrong or to say we need them to be up to a certain standard?
Small unit housing has a few things which make it an enduring aspect of the market, price is a big driver. After that you also have location, a place that has kept rental appeal for 50 years continuously normally has amenities which suit people who may not have cars or high means, this could be bus routes, public parks (within walking distance), rail lines, laundromats, shops, access to work or many other considerations. They are also an important part of housing for single middle aged people, and emigrants who want cheap housing so they can send money home.
The idea that people are forced into them is ridiculous. They could rent a room in a larger house and share with others, but some don’t want that, they might want their privacy, they might not like other peoples company or habits which don’t match theirs. A part of me wanted to invite the pleasant lady for a coffee and discuss these things but instead I just walked away, because it occurred to me, she never housed anybody and has no idea of what it involves or why the people living there are living there.
They might be marginalised, but what is the alternative? A full house for a single person? Hardly realistic when you have 100,000 on the waiting list and many of those are full families. The outrage is really a reflection of what the anointed one making the statement wants for themselves, not what the person living there wants. Of course if you ask somebody ‘would you like a bigger place’ they’ll say yes, people will say yes to all sorts of things like having more money, a nicer car, a better life, a better job… But then ask what they are willing to give up for those things and it will change.
Would you like more money? If yes then would you work an additional 30 hours a week? Maybe not, and if so and it was a salary increase that didn’t really make you better off would you do it then? Would you like a bigger house? If yes what if it’s in the arse of Mullingar far from friends family and amenities? Many things in life are about choices, choices in consumption and in what people want for themselves, if small units are so bad then why are they so popular?
And if they are bad what’s the alternative? And if the alternative is for the state to build special units then where and how given they might not have sites near the place people want to live. If they had the capacity to build these units would it be fair to the tens of thousands of families on the housing list to get skipped so that we, as unaffected third parties with an ideal world in mind, can sleep better at night?
It would be far better for every person who says something is wrong to go out and attempt to fix said problem in their own way than to crib about it. In my parting words when I mentioned making housing for people her response was ‘I want to house myself’, which to my way of thinking is interpreted as ‘I’m going to look after number one, and shame on the people who look after number 2, 3 and 4 if it isn’t done in the manner I see fit’.
Interesting world view really.