Housing experts question new census figures
CSO figures show an increase of 14,145 renting from State-provided accommodation
The Department of Housing said the Government is only beginning to build social housing again, with 650 new units developed last year. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
Census housing figures released this week that show an 11 per cent rise in tenants renting from local councils are “disingenuous”, according to housing experts. The figures from the Central Statistics Office show an increase of 14,145 people renting from State-provided accommodation.
A large number of these, however, are estimated to be tenants renting from private landlords, on local council rent assistance schemes.
The number of people renting from private landlords has increased by 2 per cent since 2011, according to the figures. The number of tenants in State-provided accommodation rose from 129,033 in 2011, to 143,178 last year.
The Department of Housing said the Government is only beginning to build social housing again, with 650 new units developed last year.
A spokesperson from the Department said that as “the census uses self-reported data, some HAP [Housing assistance payment] and rent supplement tenants, although in private rented accommodation, may have reported themselves as renting from a local authority when completing their census return”.
The spokesperson said that while the level of newly-built local authority housing was low, 7,200 State-owned housing units that had been out of use have been refurbished since 2014.
Last year, the State spent more than €57 million on the HAP scheme, not including the separate ‘rent supplement’ scheme, which also subsidises tenant’s rent to landlords. The Government has anticipated the cost of the HAP scheme will rise to €157 million this year.
Local authorities subsidising tenants’ rent to private landlords does not provide the best value for money in the long run, architect and property expert Mel Reynolds claimed. The 32,000 people the Government is hoping to put on rental assistance schemes with private landlords under the Rebuilding Ireland plan will end up costing €290 million more to house over a number of years than they would if put into State-built accommodation, Mr Reynolds said.
Prioritising rent assistance schemes in the private market rather than building more State-owned social housing has pushed up rent prices, said Lorcan Sirr, a lecturer in housing studies at the Dublin Institute of Technology. “Local authorities have been one of the main drivers of rent increases. By pushing more tenants into the private market, it is squeezing everybody else up and drives up rent,” he said.
Brendan Murphy, a statistician with the Central Statistics Office, said the anomaly may have arisen from the wording of the census forms. People were given the option of selecting a “private landlord” or “local authority” when describing their landlord.
Many people who are on rent assistance or subsidised schemes would consider the local council to be their landlord, Mr Sirr said, masking the number of people on rent assistance in the private market.