Mica scheme may lead to rise in northwest homelessness, charity warns

Many social and rental homes said to be among estimated 7,500 defective properties

A mica-affected home in Co Donegal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A mica-affected home in Co Donegal. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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The number of homeless people in the northwest could increase once homeowners participating in the mica redress scheme begin to vacate their properties, a charity has said.

Noel Daly, general manager of North West Simon Community, said this would put further pressure on the already over-burdened rental sector and that many social and rental homes were among the estimated 7,500 defective properties.

He said mica-affected homeowners, who will be entitled to a €15,000 rental accommodation allowance and €5,000 towards storage costs, would be competing for a very limited supply of properties.

“The temporary rehousing of these tenants will inevitably mean delays to the allocation of social housing to other qualified social housing applicants, and increase pressure on those in enforced sharing arrangements,” he said.

The Social Housing Needs Assessment of November 2020 identified 924 households eligible for housing by Donegal County Council. A total of 351 were living in private rented properties and 440 were living with parents, relatives or friends.

North West Simon said it could identify only 83 properties available to rent online in Co Donegal over the four-week period from November 11th to December 9th. It has been estimated that 5,800 houses in the redress scheme are in Co Donegal.

Rented homes

A spokeswoman for Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien confirmed that rented homes with a Residential Tenancies Board-registered tenancy on November 1st last were eligible for the redress scheme, subject to a maximum of one rental property per household.

“Current estimates are that approximately 900 affected homes with RTB registered tenancies are eligible to apply,” she said.

The department said the eligibility of the scheme was being expanded to include legal rental properties, subject to a charge on the property.

“This means if the property is sold within a set period, the landlord must repay the grant,” she said, adding that the claw-back mechanism aimed to ensure homes were kept in the rental sector during the current housing crisis.

Mr Daly said the reality for the “hidden homeless” was grim in the northwest and elsewhere in the country.

North West Simon last month released figures about 104 households it was supporting. It estimated that of these, just under 20 per cent were “in reasonably secure accommodation” provided or supported by local authorities – 18 in Donegal and two in Sligo.

Of the remaining households, 28 were “sofa surfing”, 13 were “involuntarily sharing in overcrowded accommodation”, 11 had received eviction notices, 11 were in emergency accommodation, four were in hospital, two people were sleeping in tents, two had recently been evicted, one person was living in a caravan and one was sleeping in a car.

Emergency beds

The Simon Community has welcomed proposals to review the Housing Assistance Payment scheme, saying the gap between existing rates and rising rents is widening

Mr Daly said its research showed that only 145 properties were recently available for rent across Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal, of which 21 were potentially affordable under one of the existing HAP rates.

A lack of emergency beds was also an issue, he said.

“We know from our close work with the county councils in Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo that almost every day of the week at least one housing official is on the telephone to B&Bs, hostels and hotels throughout their county in search of an emergency bed for a person or family experiencing homelessness,” he said.

“It is an extraordinarily difficult situation to sit waiting for several hours and then get the news that the best the council can offer is a bed for a night or two, or maybe a fortnight, with no guarantee that additional supports will be available for those experiencing a personal crisis.”