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Housing measures fall short in key areas

By Ann Marie Foley - 12 November, 2015

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Focus Ireland has welcomed new Government measures which will help households who are secure in the rental market but cautioned that other measures won’t help those already in danger of eviction.

The charity sought measures such as tax breaks to landlords that rent to social tenants, longer notice periods and greater scrutiny to stop landlords evicting tenants unfairly.

“These will help the situation. The measures to boost the building of new units are also welcome and long-overdue,” said Mike Allen, Director of Advocacy, Focus Ireland.

Issues which the package does not address are the level of Rent Supplement and the actions of banks when they repossess the properties of buy-to-let landlords.

“These are huge underlying issues and so the package risks not stemming the constant flow of 70 to 80 families a month losing their homes and becoming homeless in Dublin alone. This problem is also rising now in other major cities nationwide such as Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford,” said Mike Allen.

The rent supplement has not been raised in three years while rents have risen by 30 to 40% in some areas during the same period.

According to Mike Allen, “The main reason given by the Department of Social Protection for failing to increase the level of Rent Supplement is that it would push up rents, if the Cabinet really believes that this package will control rents, there is no excuse for not increasing Rent Supplement levels so that tenants are not forced into debt by having to fund the gap.”

On bank repossessions, he said that more than 30,000 buy-to-let landlords are over 12 months in arrears on their mortgages.

He called on the Government to take further measures to ensure that tenancies remain as ‘on-going concerns’ so the sitting tenants keep their homes and do not become homeless.

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The Peter McVerry Trust welcomed new measures approved by the Cabinet in relation to rental reform but urged the Government to enact legislation immediately to help prevent unscrupulous landlords from hiking up rent.

“We would urge the Government to move to bring legislation before the Oireachtas within days to ensure that these measures take effect immediately,” said Pat Doyle, CEO, Peter McVerry Trust.

“The last thing that anyone wants to see is legislation that is intended to protect tenancies and tenants accidentally leading to a spike in homelessness as landlords move to hike up rents. Any even small increase in rent will only push more people out of their accommodation by making it even less affordable.”

Pat Doyle said he hopes that the tax incentives for landlords will make more properties available to rent supplement and HAP scheme recipients.

“If this happens we should be able to get more people out of homeless services and into longer term accommodation,” he said.

He also welcomed moves to clamp down on landlords who used the premise of selling properties to break tenancies evicting tenants with the aim of raising the rents for new tenants.

He highlighted the importance of keeping at risk tenants in their current homes, as this will reduce the numbers becoming homeless and the need to create new housing for them.

Also this week, Dublin’s Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH) reported increases in the number of people sleeping rough.

The charity stated that on Tuesday night there were “shocking scenes” at Dublin’s GPO as there was a significant increase in presentations is evident on the streets. The ICHH outreach teams and emergency mobile unit were out supporting the homeless.

Speaking from O’Connell Street, Anthony Flynn, ICHH Director, said “These are shocking scenes across the city and this is not confined to one area. Grafton Street/St Stephen’s Green are inundated with sleeping bag requests and claims that people cannot access beds. This is a week after the announcement of beds. Something clearly hasn’t kicked in.”

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