Private rented sector needs ‘serious reform’ to solve homelessness

Report says families describe getting a rapid-build home like ‘winning the Lotto’

“HAP  ultimately does little to provide security of tenure or remove the prospect of homelessness in the future”

“HAP ultimately does little to provide security of tenure or remove the prospect of homelessness in the future”

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Dublin’s family homelessness crisis will not be solved without “serious reform of the private rented sector”, independent experts have told Dublin City Council.

In a hard-hitting report, Prof Katherine Brickell and Dr Mel Nowicki, geographers at Royal Holloway, University of London, argue that the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) – the cornerstone of the Government’s response to the housing crisis – provides little security or protection from homelessness.

“Solving Dublin’s housing crisis cannot be fully realised without acknowledging the private rented sector as a major route into homelessness,” they write.

“Family homelessness...is largely a consequence of the precarity embedded within the...sector and/or familial breakdown.”

The report, Home At Last, which is published by the council on Monday, is the first in-depth examination of the experience of homeless families who moved into a controversial “rapid-build” housing schemes. The first of these, in Ballymun, was tenanted in summer 2016.

It will remain extremely difficult to to reduce rates of homelessness in Dublin without serious reform of the private rented sector

Eviction or inability to find affordable housing in the sector tends to lead to overcrowding as families move back in with parents, with exacerbated family tensions, often leaving “single mothers in particular with few other avenues but to present as homeless”.

“It will remain extremely difficult to to reduce rates of homelessness in Dublin without serious reform of the private rented sector.

“HAP [paid to private landlords as a subsidy for low-income tenants] ultimately does little to provide security of tenure or remove the prospect of homelessness in the future.”

And there is a “clear power imbalance” between landlords and tenants, particular those on low incomes who “have little choice but to live in a state of perpetual housing precarity, with the threat of eviction a looming presence”.

Solution

Based on interviews with 16 families who moved into the Ballymun and Finglas schemes, the report concludes high quality rapid-build housing “is an unequivocal and fundamental solution to Dublin’s housing crisis for many families”.

Such housing is manufactured in factories and assembled on-site as a faster method than traditional bricks-and-mortar. Some 208 homes have been delivered across these and other schemes, although 1,500 were promised, and this report is likely to increase pressure on the Government to ramp up the delivery of rapid-build housing.

There should be a “up-scaling of delivery” of rapid-build housing, the authors say.

Families, who reported the stigma and shame of homelessness, described being allocated a rapid-build home as like “winning the Lotto”.

It’s just the kids. They got so attached to the dog and every day they were crying...I don’t think I could go through that again

One mother is quoted: “The day I moved in here... was the best day of my life. I swear to God...This is our first proper home, you know?”

The consensus among those interviewed “was one of overwhelming gratitude”.

The ongoing trauma of homelessness, even after being allocated a permanent tenancy, is also captured.

One father described how his children had had to give up their pet dog when they became homeless. Despite now having a permanent tenancy he was nervous about losing the home and wouldn’t get a new dog. He said: “It’s just the kids. They got so attached to the dog and every day they were crying...I don’t think I could go through that again.”

Permanent tenancies

Stories like this “allude to the long-term implications of homelessness...that continues to shape and define people’s experiences of home and security even once they are no longer homeless...Permanent tenancies...are therefore one element of the support needed for the formerly homeless.”

The report points out the homes, built on council-owned land, cost €180,000 each in Ballymun, and €220,000 each in Finglas.

It also calls for greater consultation with the “users” of rapid-build and other social housing, saying they were “ultimately best-placed to inform policy-makers, architects and other professional stakeholders about their needs and experiences”.

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