Use vacant rural homes to solve homeless crisis, says landlords’ association

Spokesman says he does not think State’s housing crisis is worse than in other countries

Focus Ireland has called on the Minister to close a loophole that allows for residential eviction. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Focus Ireland has called on the Minister to close a loophole that allows for residential eviction. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Vacant properties in rural areas should be utilised as a solution to the homelessness crisis, the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has said.

The organisation’s spokesman Fintan McNamara told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke that there are areas in the country that would welcome families as it would help to stop schools closing.

He also said that the private rental market in Ireland is highly regulated with the “most draconian rent control” system in Europe, and added that he did not think the homelessness problem was any worse in other European cities.

The assertion was disputed by Focus Ireland head of advocacy Mike Allen, who called on the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to close a loophole that allows a landlord break a tenancy if the property is being sold.

“The largest single group of people becoming homeless are doing so because their landlord is selling up, sometimes forced to do so by the bank,” he told Newstalk Breakfast on Friday morning.

“The Minister should close that loophole. It is the single most significant thing he can do.”

Mr Allen was responding to the latest homes figures which show that the number of people living in emergency accommodation has reached a record high, with 8,374 people accessing emergency accommodation last month.

The figures from the Department of Housing show that 3,124 of these were children.

The number of people in emergency accommodation in Dublin in September was 5,953, with 690 families being housed in hotels and B&Bs across the country.

‘Not a turning point’

Mr Murphy told the Dáil last night that the number of homeless families in emergency accommodation in Dublin fell for a second consecutive month in September.

However, Mr Allen said the figure was actually quite modest with just eight families exiting homelessness in Dublin last month: “Yes, we have to recognise that it is small progress, but it is not a turning point.”

Mr Allen called for the introduction of a system whereby buy-to-let property owners could sell the property while leaving tenants in situ as is done in commercial transactions. This would give both tenants and owners more protection, he said.

Mr McNamara said changing the law would have a very negative effect on investor sentiment, would deter landlords coming into the market and would be unconstitutional.

‘One of State’s largest societal failings’

Meanwhile, the Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) charity has sought clarification from the the Minister on the latest homeless figures.

ICHH spokesman Anthony Flynn told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland he is concerned that the latest figures do not include people in the new emergency hubs.

“We’re not getting clarification and we need it…. The problem is worse than everybody believes it is.”

Mr Flynn said that the latest report does not appear to include emergency-style accommodation in hubs.

The Department of Housing has said that there were 2,000 exits from emergency accommodation in the first six months of 2017.

Mr Flynn pointed out that there are 120,000 people on social housing waiting lists: “We’re not seeing anything being done to address that issue in any way, shape or form.”

Children’s charity Barnardos has described the increase in the number of homeless young people as a “tragic” situation that may lead to “one of the largest societal failings the State has ever witnessed” should it continue.

“We cannot emphasise enough the damaging effect that living in emergency accommodation has on a child’s development. These children will not be enjoying their mid-term break at home, but will be passing the time in wildly unsuitable accommodation,” Barnardos head of advocacy June Tinsley said.

She pointed out that at the current rate of exit it would take 12 years to eliminate family homelessness in Dublin alone, and called on the Government to guarantee that no child spends more than six months in emergency accommodation.

Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon has criticised the use of the word “dependents” in reports on homelessness, and said a more specific focus is needed on the plight of homeless children.

“The failure to mention or consider children in this official housing report unfortunately demonstrates the lack of consideration that has been given to the specific needs of children experiencing homelessness,” he said, adding:

“The report does outline that there are 3,124 ‘dependents’ living in emergency accommodation and we can only presume that the majority of these are children, though some are likely to be adults with significant needs.”

Dr Muldoon echoed calls for a guarantee on a maximum length of time children should spend in emergency accommodation.