More than 80,000 households would be "out on the streets" if Government took the "populist" decision to get rid of the Housing Assistance Payment (Hap), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) heard on Thursday.
Kate O'Connell, TD (Fine Gael) made the observation during a series of questions to John McCarthy, secretary general of the Department of Housing. She invited him to criticise Opposition legislation aimed at giving greater security to tenants security, to "articulate" how the Land Development Agency would "help real people out there" and to agree that many landlords were legitimately asking tenants to leave properties so they could be refurbish.
She and party colleague, Maria Bailey TD, spent 45 minutes at the committee which sat for more than five hours discussing the Government's Rebuilding Ireland housing plan. Ms Bailey is not a member of the PAC but chairs the Oireachtas housing committee. After they left, committee member Catherine Connolly TD (Independent) referred to them as the "A-Team".
Mr McCarthy said between 2016 and 2018 almost 90,000 households had been accommodated in private-rented tenancies with the support of the Hap and the Rental Assistance Scheme. The spend on the housing payment had increased, he said, from €153 million in 2017, to €277 million last year and was projected to reach €423 million this year.
Ms Connolly said €423 million . “Just let me dwell on that figure . . . These payments are going directly to the private market that’s unsustainable, where rents are going up and up and up. Rents are absolutely unsustainable.”
Mr McCarthy said the most recent count found there were 71,858 households on the social housing waiting list. In addition 43,000 households were on the housing payment scheme with smaller numbers on the rental aid scheme and others in receipt of rent supplement.
“So we are at over 100,000 households,” said Ms Connolly. “We were told by the last Government that Hap was the only game in town. And when a household goes on Hap they are taken off the housing list and put on a limbo list . . . Isn’t that shocking?”
“That’s the policy,” replied Mr McCarthy. He said, however, that since 2011 the amount spent annually on housing and rent assistance schemes had reduced by 11 per cent.
He told Ms O’Connell that between 2016 and 2018 about 90,000 households had been supported in the private rented sector. She asked what would happen if Hap was cancelled.
He replied: “If you took the money that was used over those three years and put it into capital programmes [to build or purchase homes] you’d probably assist about 5,000 households.”
“So 85,000 households would be out on the street?” she asked. “Thank you “I . . . suppose really what I’m getting at here is that Hap seems to be almost like a bad thing in some people’s minds. If we just got rid of it, to be populist, put the money into building houses . . . it takes time to build those houses. In the intermediate period what do we do with the families?”