IMPACT calls for emergency rent controls to help ease growing housing and homelessness crisis

IMPACT trade union has demanded urgent Government intervention to stem increases in private rents. Speaking at a public meeting in Dublin on Saturday (2oth September), IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said rapid and substantial rent increases were making housing unaffordable and, coupled with insecure private tenancy arrangements, were feeding a Dublin housing and homelessness crisis.

Mr Callinan was speaking at a public meeting, organised by IMPACT, which brought together over 100 housing and homelessness practitioners, policy-makers and experts. “A Roof is a Right: Practical actions to tackle Dublin’s homelessness crisis” heard speakers from the Peter McVerry Trust, Threshold, Dublin Simon Community and Focus Ireland call for urgent government action to deal with the capital’s growing homelessness crisis.

Father McVerry warned that Dublin’s homelessness crisis was about to get “much, much worse” because of a ticking “mortgage arrears time bomb” especially in the buy-to-let sector. “Some 31,500 buy-to-let residential properties are in mortgage arrears of more than 90 days, and 35,000 principal home properties are in mortgage arrears of more than two years. As property values increase, the enthusiasm of the financial institutions to repossess residential properties and secure a greater proportion of their unmet loans will increase. Each house that is repossessed is a person or family potentially facing homelessness, usually for the first time,” he warned.

Speaking after the Private Residential Tenancies Board reported that Dublin rents had soared by 10.5% in the year to June 2014, Mr Callinan said: “There is an urgent need for the Government to intervene in the housing market. In the short-term that must include greater security for private tenants through a legal entitlement to secure-term rental leases, with rent increases linked to the consumer price index. In the medium and long-term it requires a massive investment in sustainable social housing,” he said.

Mr Callinan also called on central government and local authorities to ring fence – and, if necessary, increase – financial support for homelessness services. “Staff in NGOs delivering homelessness services have met hugely growing demand with reduced or, at best, static funding. Most of them tell us that they can just about maintain services if funding is retained at current levels. But there are real fears that homeless services – and the people who depend on them utterly – will suffer if funding falls,” he said.

Father Peter McVerry of the Peter McVerry Trust (pictured) said increased rents were now the main cause of homelessness. “The Department of Social Protection is now part of the problem, although it is meant to be part of the solution. The rent supplement, at least in urban areas where most homeless people are to be found, is totally inadequate,” he said.

He said private rent controls and security of tenure were common in other countries. “The failure to control rent increases, as happens in other countries, and the failure to provide tenants with a reasonable security of tenure, as happens in other countries, is allowing landlords to unnecessarily evict tenants into homelessness,” he said. Father McVerry estimated that at least six people were becoming homeless every day and said the shortage of social housing in Dublin meant private rented housing is “virtually closed as an exit from homelessness”.

“Given the disparity between supply and demand, landlords can name their price and choose their tenants. Only one landlord in 100 is accepting rent allowance in the greater Dublin area, leading to great frustration amongst  people who are homeless who feel as if they are looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Why would a landlord choose a tenant on social welfare, with all the frustration, delays and inefficiencies of the rent supplement section of the Department of Social Protection, when they can offer the tenancy to a working person with cash in hand,” he asked.

Coordinated response

Tánaiste Joan Burton addressed the meeting, and said that the Government is seeking to ensure a coordinated response to the crisis of homelessness. She told the meeting that the aim is to move from people from emergency shelter provision to sustainable homes, and that innovative funding and construction solutions are needed to realise that aim. She said that any interventions needed to guard against driving private rent increases. The Tánaiste said that the Government’s housing strategy will be published in October at the same time as Budget 2015 and that the strategy would include a drive to add new social housing stock, reactivate old social housing stock and continue to build social housing capacity.

Related: Government could control rent ‘like they capped price of pint’ – The Irish Times (Monday 22nd September 2014)