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Westport rents through the roof

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

IT could be a quiz question for a local fundraiser. For a charity, perhaps, that supports the less-well-off among us. Where was ‘Little Westport’?
Need a hint? We are talking about Celtic Tiger times. When we all went mad. When we borrowed like there was no tomorrow. When house prices went through the roof. When Breakfast Roll Man was born. When coffee became cool. When food porn was born. When spray tan replaced sun beds. When weekend shopping trips to New York became ‘a must’ if you wanted to be Somebody. When running replaced religion.
Too much information, perhaps?
Okay, you give up? Want the answer? Okay. ‘Little Westport’ was the pet name for a housing estate in Castlebar called Manor Village.
Why, you might ask, was a housing estate on the edge of the county town, 18 kilometres away, christened thus? Simple: because a decade ago lots of people – mainly in the service industry – who could not afford rents in Westport, were forced to move to Castlebar and commute daily to the tourism haven.
Ten years later and rental properties are once again at a premium in Westport. As the high season approaches all one has to do is check out availability on daft.ie and the paucity of properties is in evidence.
The exorbitant rental rates are back too. All fine for rich holiday-makers, but what about those important people – waiters and waitresses, shop assistants and bartenders, chefs and kitchen porters – who are the backbone of the service industry that ensures Westport’s success as a tourism destination?
This columnist happened to meet a young mother from Eastern Europe last week who has worked in the service industry in Westport for over a decade. A single mother, she has small children attending a local school. Last year – along with several other tenants of town-centre apartments – she was given notice to quit, as the apartments were being renovated. It was a perfectly legal entitlement of the landlord’s. Her one-year contract had come to an end.
He had just purchased the properties – which had languished in Nama since the crash – and was now going to give them a makeover and increase the rent.
The young mother was really disappointed. She had been a good tenant. Indeed, she had repainted the apartment at her own expense and looked after it well. It suited her too for her irregular work shifts and for bringing her children to and from school. Everything was within walking distance. Suddenly, it felt as if her world was falling apart. It was the middle of summer 2017 and she could not find anywhere to live that she could afford. She even went to Mayo County Council and asked about emergency temporary accommodation. There was nothing available.

New citizens
THIS woman – like the dozens of Eastern Europeans who live in Westport and work hard to ensure the town’s economy thrives – is attached to her adopted home town.
“I just love this town, it is so quiet and local people have been so kind to me. I have made so many friends,” she said over coffee last week.
Ultimately, she found a little house, owned by a lovely landlord, for herself and her children.
Like so many of Westport’s workforce, not originally from the area, finding affordable accommodation has become increasingly difficult.
In the words of this young woman: “Landlords need to look after local people, even if we are not originally form the town, not just tourists. We are working in the service industry and Westport needs us. We send our children to school in the town; we do our grocery shopping in its supermarkets; we attend church services and contribute as best we can; we join clubs and groups; we are part of the fabric of the community,” she said.

Regulatory responsibilites
ISN’T she so right? Shouldn’t our local authority ensure that there is enough affordable accommodation for those citizens who work and live in our towns? Let’s not lurch along onto the merry-go-round of liberal laissez-faire economics yet again where the minority benefits while decent hardworking people are put to ‘the pin of their collars’ just to make ends meet.
If Westport really is the ‘Best Place to Live in Ireland’, then it must value all its citizens equally.

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