Ministers have agreed at a Cabinet meeting to a series of measures to provide increased protection for renters from the start of April, when the eviction ban is due to be phased out.
Sinn Féin will table a motion in the Dáil on Tuesday evening seeking to extend the ban until 2024, in a move which has put pressure on the Coalition as it attempts to shore up backbencher and Independent votes.
After the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the Government was going to “unwind the evictions ban but introduce these innovative measures to increase and improve tenants rights at the same time”.
At the meeting, the Government agreed to Green Party proposals to put a safety net in place for renters for when the eviction moratorium begins to be phased out on April 1st.
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A source said a number of measures were agreed. Firstly, for renters in receipt of State supports such as Hap (Housing Assistance Payment), councils can purchase their home and make it available to them as social housing as part of an expanded “tenant-in-situ” scheme.
Secondly, for those not in receipt of supports but at risk of homelessness, their local housing body or council can purchase their home and rent it to them on a “cost rental” or not-for-profit basis. Additional funding will be made available for these schemes as needed.
For those tenants who are in a position to purchase their home, a third option will be available. They will be given first refusal on buying their home, and can apply for the State-backed shared equity scheme which will reduce the up-front cost of purchase by up to 30 per cent. Alternatively, they can apply for the Local Authority Home Loan, a subsidised mortgage targeted at low and middle-income households.
However, the “first refusal” option, which will mandate that renters will be given the first chance to bid on their home if it is being put up for sale, will need legislation and will be come in later. This is contrary to comments from Mr Ryan. who earlier told reporters that this could be done on an “administrative basis”. Those availing of this option will also be able to claim back up to 30 per cent of the purchase price of their home using the First Home scheme, he said.
Legislation is being drafted to underpin the planned new supports, but a Government source said the cost rental “safety net” will be in place from April 1st, when the phasing out of the moratorium begins.
Mr Ryan said the “critical issue” was to “give people reassurance to those who might be at risk of becoming homeless that there are solutions to avoid that prospect and I think it’s right to focus on that today”.
He said the expansion of the cost rental model is a “a historic, fundamental reform of Irish housing policy and that came from the Green Party in opposition and we’re delivering it in Government”
A number of senior Green Party members have expressed concern about the Government’s plan to let the eviction ban lapse at the end of the month.
Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has already indicated that she would vote with the Sinn Féin motion in the Dáil on Wednesday, although the Government is working on a counter-motion. If Ms Hourigan does not vote with the Coalition, she will likely lose the party whip, putting the Government’s majority in danger. Her fellow party TD Patrick Costello has yet to say how he will vote.
Further Green Party members expressed concerns on Tuesday morning about what they said was a lack of detail on the Government’s plan to protect renters after the ban ends.
Steven Matthews, the Green Party chairman of the Oireachtas Housing Committee, said it was “disappointing and extremely worrying for all other tenants that the Minister has not given details or instructions on how private rental tenants are to be supported when offered first option to buy”.
“Likewise, the opportunity for an Approved Housing Body to purchase and offer secure and affordable cost rental options. These details should have been a priority for the Minister to issue over the last six months, and whilst I’m confident they will be delivered, the lack of detail is causing huge anxiety for renters.”
Clare-based Green Party Senator Roisin Garvey said it was a “pity” that policies had not been more fully developed before the ban was lifted.
“We as a Government really should have brought some more in,” she said, while questioning whether there were sufficient resources working on the issue in the Department of Housing. She did not believe Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien was “sitting on his hands”, she said.
“We’re just overrun with issues around housing, and I wonder does the Department of Housing need more resourcing, or what does it need?” she asked.
Extending the eviction ban was not a “simple” solution to addressing homelessness, she maintained.
Mr Ryan said he had spoken to the pair yesterday and they were “very supportive of the approach we’re taking which is transformative in terms of advancing tenants rights.” He said on Tuesday that the measures the Government will set out in its countermotion will respond to the criticism that there wasn’t enough work done in advance of lifting the ban.
Meanwhile, the Independent Regional Group said it has “eight asks” of the Government if their support is to be assured.
They said their position on the motion and on a proposed no confidence vote by the Labour Party will be dependent on the Government’s response.
The group said it wants to remove barriers to older people in long-term nursing home care who wish to lease out their homes effective from May 1st, 2023. They also want to increase the grant rates for the Croí Cónaithe refurbishment scheme to reflect current building costs, effective from May 1st. They want the Government to revise the Croí Cónaithe scheme to include properties built prior to 2007, effective from the same date.
Another key ask is the introduction in Budget 2024 of a tax relief scheme for small landlords to take effect in the current tax year.