Homeless crisis in need of urgent action

Landlords are raising rents and cutting off housing options to families

Sat, Apr 26, 2014, 01:00

A new homelessness is emerging, growing in number and with children at the centre of it.

Where the homeless population has traditionally been dominated by single people – single men in particular – families with children are now presenting to agencies in increasing numbers.

According to Bob Jordan, director of the Threshold charity, who has been working in the sector for more than a decade, for the first time “families with two, three and four children are falling through the net”.

They include the plight of 36-year-old Sabrina McMahon who, along with her three children, had to live in her car for the past week after a series of temporary housing arrangements broke down.

Dáithí Downey, deputy director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, which oversees homelessness services across Dublin’s four local authorities, said yesterday that while there have always been some families with children presenting, “the scale of this has intensified since September last year.

“Families are facing increased rental costs in a tightening and volatile housing market which is squeezing large numbers of people out of once-stable housing options.

“With the revival of capital values in the open housing market comes an expectation on the part of landlords that they can seek higher rents.

“This is particularly a matter of income inadequacy where families are unable to absorb rent increases. It is a massive crisis.”

As well as rent increases in the private sector, the caps on rent allowance from the State mean the payment is too low to meet rents in many areas, and an increasing number of landlords won’t accept rent allowance. Households on marginal incomes are simply being priced out of the rental market.

On top of this, practically no new social housing is being provided.

There are 96,000 households on the national housing waiting list – compared with 56,250 in 2008; 48,400 in 2002; and 28,200 in 1993.

The longest waiting list is in Dublin city, where 16,170 households are on the list, followed by Cork city with 6,400, followed by South Dublin County Council, which has a waiting list of 6,217. Households are being advised they face waits of up to a decade before they will get a home.

Single parents with children account for one-third of those on the housing waiting lists.

‘Drop in the ocean’
In the past fortnight Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan announced a €15 million fund to renovate 952 long-term vacant council houses and flats to bring them back into use in the coming years – a welcome step but a “drop in the ocean” in the words of homeless and housing charities such as the Simon Community.