Number of homeless in State hits record high

Some 10,568 people, including 3,137 children, are now categorised as homeless in the Republic

The number of homeless people in the State has reached a record high of 10,568, which includes 3,137 children.

The homelessness crisis was being exacerbated by an increase in the numbers of tenants being evicted from rental homes, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien said.

The number of people categorised as homeless in July is up 76 on the 10,492 figure recorded in June. The previous highest total was 10,514 in October 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr O’Brien said the rise in homelessness was a result of an increase in notices to quit served on tenants and a decline in the number of properties available to those receiving the housing assistance payment (Hap).

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Local authorities have been given more flexibility to increase Hap payments, which covers part of the rent paid to landlords for people on the social housing waiting list. Since last month councils have had the discretion to pay 35 per cent above normal Hap limits on a case-by-case basis.

Mr O’Brien said the Government, local authorities and those in the NGO sector were making “every effort to reduce homelessness”.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin blamed the rise in homelessness on the Government’s decision in April last year to end a ban on evictions introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then general homeless has increased by 26 per cent, child homelessness by 43 per cent and family homelessness by 30 per cent.

Mr Ó Broin proposed an emergency ban on evictions and an obligation on councils to put in place a homeless prevention plan for all households with notices to quit.

He also recommended an expansion of the tenant in situ scheme where councils buy rental properties of those threatened with eviction.

Social Democrats housing spokesman Cian O’Callaghan said the figures show the Government is “far too close to those making huge profits from the housing crisis”.

He proposed that rent pressure zones should be extended nationwide, Hap should be revised upwards and 35,000 empty rental homes should be pressed into service. He said the official figures did not include those in shelters or in the asylum system.

“The Government is deluded if they think more of the same will solve the problem. They must start to do things differently,” he said.

Some 71 per cent of homeless people are in the greater Dublin area, according to the Department of Housing figures. Of the more than 7,400 adults recorded as homeless, some 1,239 were younger than 25 years old.

Senator Rebecca Moynihan, Labour Party spokeswoman on housing, said the Government should introduce a temporary rent freeze, as well as a ban on evictions. “We need to do everything we can to protect people from falling into homelessness in the first place,” she said.

Focus Ireland policy director Mike Allen said there needed to be a pause on evictions for up to six months or else the problem would get worse. “There has to be a pause on notices of termination while we gauge what is an appropriate scale of response,” he said. “There is nothing on the horizon that is suggesting that it is going to get any better,” he said.

The Residential Tenancies Board has said 2,798 landlords left the rental market in the first six months of 2022. Mr Allen said that was an “extraordinarily high number” and would normally be expected to be closer to 1,000.

He suggested the Government must introduce tax incentives for landlords to keep them in the market. Tax relief on rental incomes over a seven-year period and a lower capital gains tax for landlords who sell to local authorities or the State also should be considered.

Pat Doyle, Peter McVerry Trust chief executive, similarly backed a moratorium on evictions to help stem the flow of people into homelessness.

The Simon Communities of Ireland are calling for 5,000 vacant properties to be brought back into use, through the repair and lease scheme for people in homelessness and on the social housing waiting list, as well as increased funding towards homeless prevention and reformed Hap rates.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times