Opinion

Paul McNamee: It’s not impossible to have sympathy for Michael Rotondo

Authorities and all partner groups must properly get to grips with the housing crisis.

Despite global pressure, it’s not impossible to have sympathy for Michael Rotondo.

Rotondo scored fame over a week ago when his parents took him to court and won an order to evict him from the family home.

Rotondo is 30, and for the last eight years has been living with his parents in New York state. There is nothing odd in that. Except his parents were at their wits’ end. Their son refused, they said, to find a job, to do any work around the home, to contribute. They were paying for everything.

The relationship had broken down to the extent that they decided they needed to go to court to get him out.

In the hearing, which became a global cause célèbre, he was presented as a feckless layabout. To complicate matters he had a son he hadn’t seen in over a year and appeared to be making little attempt to provide for. It all allowed for Rotondo to be the focus of righteous indignation.

The reality was a little more complex. Damn reality. Scratch a little and the case had very contemporary elements at core. Like a great Russian novel, a simple family drama told a bigger universal truth.

Rotondo had mental health issues. It’s not clear the extent, but there were financial blocks to treatment. And it’s not clear either how they exacerbated his behaviour.

Added to this we get to a major problem gripping millennials globally. Where do they live after the family home, where do they work and where does enough money come from to keep them independent?

Over a quarter of people aged 20-34 in the UK, that’s around 3.4 million, still live with their parents. That percentage has never been higher.

Michael Rotondo will become the norm rather than the exception

This is reflected across Europe – the European average has nearly half of 18-29 year olds living with their parents.

It’s clear there is an issue. It’s not enough for those of us who left home 20 years ago and made an immediate play for independence to deliver dull diatribes about how we made it.

The lack of housing and job security cannot be dismissed by pass-remarkable shaking of heads.

And of course at heart, there is little wrong with extended families sharing homes. This used to be the norm – even when space was at a premium. Likewise, if there are mental health issues,  such an environment can be essential.

This aside, there is something in popular culture that allows for a certain arrested development, where there is an enabling of infantilisation of thought and action. And this appears to be among more younger men than women.

Fewer young women live at home than men. It’s possible that living at home longer allows the postponement of responsibility to be nurtured more.

There is no simple response to any of this. It’s rare that parents would take the same action as Michael Rotondo’s. Nobody wants to see their children suffer.

Authorities and all partner groups must properly get to grips with the housing crisis. Otherwise Michael Rotondo will become the norm rather than the exception.

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