Homeless crisis in need of urgent action

Landlords are raising rents and cutting off housing options to families

Sat, Apr 26, 2014, 01:00

In the absence of social housing, families on low incomes are dependent on the private sector and a State rent allowance.

While landlords are entitled to review rent every 12 months, the Department of Social Protection reviews the rent allowance caps only every 18 months. They were last reviewed in June, and all those working in the housing sector say they are too low.

In Dublin, the cap for a single person is €520 a month, or €350 a month if sharing accommodation. The cap is €920 a month for a couple with two children. In Cork the cap is €485 a month for a single person and €725 for a couple with two children.

To rent a two-bedroom apartment in the capital can cost upwards of €1,200 a month.

Where both these options have failed, local authorities are using hotels. The most recent figures suggest up to 170 families in Dublin are being accommodated in hotels.

It is a solution which the Homeless Executive has described as a “last resort” and one which Downey says promises “no happy outlook” for families. But even hotels are proving more difficult to source. As the tourism season picks up, rooms for homeless families will become “more scarce”.

Agencies working in this area are calling for an “energetic and substantial” response to the crisis. Among the measures they say are urgently needed are rent controls or the index-linking of rents; more discretion for community welfare officers when deciding on applications for rent allowance; and an immediate review of rent allowance caps.

Social housing
In the medium to long term, they say a higher proportion of any new housing must be ring-fenced for social and affordable housing, and all are calling for a substantial investment by the Government in building new housing.

There is also a dearth of knowledge among tenants about their rights. The Dublin Homeless Executive will soon begin a public information campaign on tenants’ rights, pointing out among other things that a landlord must give written notice of a rent increase; rent increases can be reviewed on application to the Private Residential Tenancies Board; and if a landlord wishes to move back into the property or sell it, they must give a tenant between 21 and 112 days’ notice, depending on the lease.

“Tenants must get more assertive, more stroppy, get good information and hang on in there,” says Downey. “No matter how bad or difficult a tenancy, there is no future for your family in a hotel.”