There is an alternative to rising levels of homelessness.
Next Friday, the emergency ban on no-fault evictions will end. Thousands of eviction notices will start to fall due from April. Single people, couples, families with children and even pensioners will face the prospect of losing their homes.
The range of people impacted is wide. As a TD I am dealing with single parents, people experiencing long-term illnesses, people with disabilities, care workers, teachers, nurses and professionals all facing eviction. Very few will find alternative rental accommodation. Many will be forced to move in with family and friends. Some may even emigrate.
Those without options will be forced to present to their local authority for emergency accommodation.
With homeless levels at record highs our emergency accommodation system is at breaking point. Many councils have no extra capacity. The rest will soon run out.
Repeatedly the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Housing have been asked a simple question. Where are these people to go when their notice date falls due? It is a question they have refused to properly answer.
Many will have no choice but to overhold. Good landlords will provide some flexibility. But the prospect of a surge of overholding cases to the Residential Tenancies Board is very real.
In the hardest of cases people will be forced to sleep rough. Where families with children are unable to access emergency accommodation they may even be referred to Garda stations for a safe place to sleep.
The reasons for all of this are twofold. The Government failed to use the breathing space provided by the eviction ban to materially reduce homeless presentations and increase exits from emergency accommodation. Then it failed to put in place any meaningful plan to mitigate the consequences of ending the ban.
The initial package of so-called mitigation measures was widely criticised as unclear, threadbare and providing no relief for those currently at risk of losing their homes.
Yesterday the Government announced a further set of proposals, the details of which are to be announced at a later date, which will require as yet undrafted legislation or not come into effect until 2024. An additional set of measures was also proposed by the Regional Independent Group of TDs.
Some of these proposals are existing Government policy. Others have no detail. None will do anything to prevent an immediate rise in homelessness. But having got the political cover they needed, the obliging Independents turned their backs on renters and voted with the Government.
This is how a majority of TDs in the Dáil. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the Greens and Independents knowingly and willingly voted to increase homelessness from April.
Ultimately the solution to the ever-growing housing crisis is a massive expansion of social, affordable rental and affordable purchase delivery by the State
There is still a chance to turn to avoid the impending human catastrophe. Today I will introduce a Bill in the Dáil to extend the ban on no-fault evictions.
The legislation is a replica of that passed by the Dáil last October. It would extend the ban to January 31st, 2024, with a phased ending of protections to renters through to April 2024.
Sinn Féin intends table this Bill for second-stage debate and vote next Tuesday. All TDs would then have an opportunity to clearly state whether they stand with or against renters facing eviction.
We have used a replica of the Government’s own legislation to enable it to be brought forward before the recess. The Bill needs a single amendment, to allow for homeowners who themselves are homeless or at risk of homelessness to access their property.
Of course, extending the ban is not in itself enough. Immediate emergency measures are also required.
We accept that there is no easy solution here. We are not arguing that the situation could somehow be transformed over the course of the extension.
But there are alternatives to allowing homelessness to increase to unprecedented levels from April.
The Minister for Housing must immediately issue a circular to local authorities instructing them to suspend their normal allocation rules when purchasing a rental property with a HAP or RAS tenant in situ.
The councils must be instructed to have a presumption to buy subject to cost and structural condition. Additional staff must be seconded to process these purchases speedily.
The Minister must also immediately extend the tenant-in-situ scheme to approved housing bodies for those renters not eligible for social housing.
A scheme with funding for this purpose already exists and should be made available now for housing associations to purchase individual units or multi-unit developments.
Such a major reform and expansion of the tenant-in-situ scheme would allow landlords to sell at market value while protecting the tenants from homelessness.
Meanwhile, the Government must introduce a Covid-19 emergency response to increase the supply of social and affordable homes above existing targets.
By utilising emergency planning and procurement powers to target vacant properties and new building technologies, a quantum of additional homes for those in emergency accommodation could be delivered during the extension.
Ultimately the solution to the ever-growing housing crisis is a massive expansion of social, affordable rental and affordable purchase delivery by the State.
But even within 10 months, by combining emergency prevention and supply measures, it would be possible to reduce the pressure on our emergency accommodation system to such an extent that when the ban is lifted, no person faces the prospect of sleeping rough or in a Garda station.
On Tuesday, every TD will face a choice: try to prevent homelessness reaching levels never thought possible or abandon renters to the mercy of a dysfunctional market.
Eoin Ó Broin is Sinn Féin spokesman on housing