Reduction in homelessness a ‘positive impact’ of Covid-19

Ban on evictions and increased bed capacity led to significant reduction in Dublin

All of the city authorities confirmed a reduction in both short-term and long-term homelessness categories, with Dublin City Council, which returns figures for the four Dublin authorities, showing the largest decrease in both.  Photograph: Tom Honan

All of the city authorities confirmed a reduction in both short-term and long-term homelessness categories, with Dublin City Council, which returns figures for the four Dublin authorities, showing the largest decrease in both. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

A ban on evictions and increased bed capacity as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic saw a significant decrease in long-term homelessness, new figures reveal.

All of the city authorities confirmed a reduction in both short-term and long-term homelessness categories, with Dublin City Council, which returns figures for the four Dublin authorities, showing the largest decrease in both.

The number of those accessing emergency accommodation who are also long-term homeless reduced from 68.04 per cent in 2019 to 16.83 per cent in 2020 in the greater Dublin area.

“This reduction is a positive impact of Covid-19, and as a result of specific measures introduced including the ban on evictions of tenants and increased bed capacity,” the National Oversight and Audit Commission (Noac) concluded in its local authority performance indicator report for 2020.

The year 2020 was the first since Noac published its first Performance Indicators Report 2014 that there has been a decrease in both the number of adults in emergency accommodation and the number of adults in emergency accommodation that are in long-term homelessness.

However, local authorities were only able to build or acquire just over 3,000 social housing units in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The figure was 43.9 per cent down on the 5,619 dwellings added to the housing stock in 2019.

A total of 3,063 dwellings were added to the housing stock in 2020, with 2,230 that were built by local authorities and 833 units that were purchased by local authorities on the open market.

In addition, 742 Part V units were acquired which were divided between local authorities (355) and approved housing bodies (387).

As a result of the pandemic the number of households whose housing needs were met by local authorities fell by 14.55 per cent in 2020 to 24,625. “This is primarily due to the impact of Covid-19 on construction delivery,” Noac said.

Liability claims

The cost of local authorities reletting their own properties has increased by almost two-thirds between 2014 and 2020 and the time it has taken to reletting vacant local authority properties has increased too.

The Noac report has a section on the cost of public liability claims for the first time. Public liability insurance costs €68.59 per person in Tipperary, but in neighbouring Laois costs only 57c per person. Tipperary’s figure was inflated by a single large claim.

The Covid-19 pandemic put pressure on local authority finances, but the impact was cushioned by central government support of €900 million in lieu of lost revenue from commercial rates.

“Extra costs were incurred to continue to provide services and the reduction in rates income greatly impacted local authority finances, notwithstanding grants received from central government,” said Noac.

In 2019, 11 local authorities had a deficit on their revenue account at the end of the year. The same number had deficits in 2020, but the cumulative amount had reduced from €46 million in 2019 to €40 million in 2020.

“In a normal year these reductions would have been welcome but they are more impressive due to the impact Covid-19 has had on local authority finances,” said Noac.

Local authorities

The chair of its performance indicator working group, Philomena Poole, said it was inevitable that Covid-19 would affect local authorities. She noted the slow turnaround in reletting council property which has worsened by 4 per cent since 2014

“Although Covid-19 has impacted this area Noac notes that there has been a steady rise in reletting costs since 2014, with only a small decrease shown in 2019 compared to the prior year,” she said.

“Noac was pleased to see that despite the challenges of 2020, local authorities continued to provide essential services, and are continuing to develop new approaches to improve their performance.”