Tom Browne in his home in Delvin with a photo of himself in his days in the Defence Forces.

Pensioner couple, 85 and 73, cannot find place to live

An 85-year-old army veteran and his 73-year-old wife are worried they will become homeless following the lifting of the eviction ban last week. Delvin residents Tom Browne and his wife Maria received a letter from their landlord on February 14 informing them that they would have to leave their rented home of 11 years by the end of September.

Since then the couple, who moved to Delvin from Dublin in 2012, have spent the last six weeks looking for new accommodation, but there is nothing in the village or the wider local area that is within their budget. They are currently paying €700 a month and say that they could pay up to €1,000.

Their combined income from their state pensions and Tom’s military pension mean that they are a few thousand euro over the income threshold for local authority housing. They are, however, eligible for housing provided by an approved housing body, but with demand far exceeding supply, they are fearful about what the future holds.

“It is stressful. There is nothing available. You are hitting your head against a stone wall the time. We have tried everywhere,” Tom said at his home last week.

“We looked at a place a few weeks ago, a four-bedroom bungalow, and it was €3,000 a month – that’s what they were asking.”

Tom, who has had two strokes in recent years, says he and his wife love living in Delvin, but acknowledge that they may have to move elsewhere to keep a roof over their heads.

They are also worried about what will happen their beloved dog of 10 years, Daisy, as most landlords want tenants without pets.

Stressing that they have nothing against their landlord, with whom they have enjoyed a good relationship throughout the 11 years, the couple say they did not expect to be struggling to find accommodation at this stage in their lives.

“We respect the [landlord’s] decision. It’s just the timing is wrong. There are no houses anywhere.”

Maria, who is diabetic, has been so stressed by the situation that her doctor prescribed medication to help her as she was having difficulty sleeping and eating.

After 11 happy years in their home in Delvin, the couple know that they will have to move out of the area if they can’t secure accommodation in the coming months.

“We are happy here. We went so far as to buy a grave here,” says Tom, who during his time in the military served tours of duty in The Congo, Cyprus and Lebanon.

Tom and Marie’s neighbours are rallying around them. Bernie Mulvey says the couple’s many friends in Delvin are hoping they can find accommodation in the village before the end of September.

“They are great tenants. They have a cleaner in every few months to give the house a clean from top to bottom. It shows how much they care about the house.

“As hard as it is to get social housing, there is nothing there for people who are over the income limit. I, as a neighbour, would recommend them to anyone.”

Deputy Johnny Guirke raised the couple’s plight in the Dáil last Thursday.

“The couple have never received help with their rent, have never defaulted on their rent, and have good references. Maria has been so stressed that she has not been sleeping or eating properly and her doctor has prescribed tablets for 10 days to help her relax,” he said.

“I can only imagine how they feel at the thought of being homeless. They could be anybody’s parents.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin told Deputy Guirke that while he did not know the specifics of Tom and Maria’s situation; “we [the government] can work with the county council to see what can be done in this case”, he said.

Speaking to the Westmeath Examiner, Deputy Guirke said he will do all he can to make sure the government follow up on their commitment to help Tom and Maria.

“I hope to get in touch with Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to see what can be done regarding social and affordable housing, as they qualify for that.

“The problem is that there is nothing there compared to the number of people that need accommodation.

“I don’t like mentioning names in the Dáil, but if you do, you get people’s attention.

“They could be anyone’s parents or grandparents. It’s as simple as someone’s marriage ending or losing a job.

“It doesn’t take a lot for people to find themselves in this situation.”