Niamh Randall says that to stem homelessness, we need to keep people in the homes they already have.
The housing and homelessness crisis continues to worsen. In August 2016 there were 6,611 men, women and children living in emergency accommodation. That’s 6,611 people in this small nation who have no place to call home, no place to cook a family meal, invite friends to do homework in a quiet space, sleep, play. Meanwhile, there are many more sleeping rough and over 100,000 on the social housing waiting list. The disconnected approach to housing provision in Ireland has meant that home ownership, the private rented sector, social housing and homelessness have been approached in isolation, when in fact they are all interconnected. The necessary housing supply is not available, and with requirements for large mortgage deposits resulting in people remaining in rental properties for longer, there is huge pressure on the rental market.
A large number of people becoming homeless are coming from the private rental sector where rents have increased by 32%, while the number of properties available to rent has decreased by 77% since 2012. Recent figures from Daft.ie and the Private Residential Tenancies Board show that the market is not slowing down, despite rent stability measures introduced towards the end of last year. This is cumulative, year-on-year growth over the last few years, which is showing no signs of abating. There is huge pressure on people and families throughout the country, many of whom are wondering where they will sleep next month, next week and even tonight. The pressure on the private rented sector is pushing people directly into homelessness.
A way forward
However, there are solutions. Keeping people in the homes that they already have is key to stopping the flow of people into homelessness. There is an urgent need to enhance stability and security of tenure. It must be acknowledged that the rent stability measures have not had the desired effect and that full rent certainty is needed to bring rents in line with real market rates linked to an index, for example the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Such a move is supported in the cross-party ‘Report of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness’ (2016). Rent certainty is not new to Ireland; since 2004 such measures have been in place with the advent of the Residential Tenancies Act.
Unfortunately, experience has proven these protections are not sufficient and too open to interpretation. Existing legislation must be enhanced and strengthened to close off the loopholes. We also need a simple regime for the taxation of rental income, providing clear and better incentives for long-term investment in the provision of good quality rental homes with secure tenancies called for by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) in 2015.
The Government must urgently act on commitments contained in ‘Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’ to get a grip on this crisis. In this context the commitment to develop a strategy for the private rented sector represents a huge opportunity to ensure a less volatile and more sustainable private rented sector. The notion that living in rented accommodation is only ever temporary, a stepping stone to home ownership or social housing, must be challenged.
This can only be done by providing greater stability and security of tenure, which will benefit both landlord and tenant, and also make a considerable contribution to tackling the homelessness and housing crisis.
Niamh is Head of Policy and Communications for the Simon Communities of Ireland.