Dublin city councillors have agreed to stop giving homeless families priority for housing ahead of applicants with a longer time on the social housing waiting list.
Brendan Kenny, the council's head of housing, had urged councillors to agree to the change to discourage families from prolonged stays in emergency accommodation and to encourage them to take housing in the private rented sector.
The change in policy follows claims earlier this year by Conor Skehan, then chairman of the State's Housing Agency, that families may be "gaming the system" by declaring themselves homeless to jump up the housing waiting list.
In a report presented to councillors on Monday night, Mr Kenny said homeless people were securing housing ahead of people who had waited a “far longer time on the housing list”. Last year, in the region of 45 per cent of new tenancies in the city went to homeless people.
Research into “patterns of use” of emergency accommodation had shown that families staying for long periods were reluctant to accept any accommodation, except a permanent council house, Mr Kenny said.
“We are concerned that families may endure a prolonged period in emergency accommodation (particularly in commercial facilities) and not consider alternatives, in order to secure what they believe to be the most sustainable option for their family, ie permanent social housing.”
While this was “completely understandable”, he said, the council did not have adequate housing stock to house these families.
Families who stayed for more than six months in emergency accommodation were less likely to accept private rented housing using the Housing Assistance Payment, he said.
“While it might seem counter-intuitive to cease prioritising families for social housing, it is with a view to encouraging shorter stays and supporting families to rent independently with enhanced financial and social support.”
The council had “provided a higher than ever number of homeless households with social housing in 2017, including 130 rapid-build units built specifically for homeless families,” Mr Kenny said.
“We consider that it was the correct response to the housing situation at that time, however, we need to be equally conscious of the number of families with far longer time on the housing list who are themselves moving between rental properties and facing many of the same issues in relation to security of tenure in the private rental market.”
Mr Kenny said the new policy “ will not be applied retrospectively” and the 637 families who currently have homeless priority will retain it. He said the council was not “deprioritising” homeless families or the homeless crisis and that “315 to 316 tenancies will go to homeless families in 2018 and 2019”.