Current government policy to address the housing crisis is over-reliant on the private rental sector, according to a new Maynooth University report. The report, which was launched in a policy briefing delivered to an audience of TDs, senators, and housing policy makers at Dáil Eireann today, states that the policy shift away from investment in new social housing has contributed to the social housing and homelessness crisis. It recommends the tripling of spending on social housing to €1 billion per annum to enable the rapid building within 16 months of 5,000 additional social housing units.
The new report calls for the de-prioritisation of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) as the main provider of social housing in Rebuilding Ireland. HAP sees housing applicants find their own private rented accommodation. The Local Authority pays the landlord directly with tenants then paying rent to the Local Authority based on their means.
The Government’s 2016 housing plan “Rebuilding Ireland” made clear that this is the primary strategy for providing additional social housing. 32,000 households are expected to be provided with housing through HAP between 2017 and 2018. 87,000 units of housing are expected to be provided up to 2021. However, the Maynooth University report argues this approach further exposes lower income households to the inequalities of the private market.
Discussing the challenges of lower-income and homeless people competing in the private market, report co-author Dr Mary P. Murphy, Maynooth University Social Sciences Institute (MUSSI), said: “The HAP schemes are reliant on supply from the private rental sector, which is in unprecedented crisis with a dramatic increase in demand for rental housing in recent years. Participants are trying to compete with tenants who are more likely to have recent work and landlord references. Most families report that they are filtered out of the private rental search at the first hurdle. The most vulnerable families have had their chances of finding accommodation extremely reduced by the prioritisation of HAP.”
Furthermore, a new cost benefit analysis contained within the report shows that the state cost of funding a local authority home over 30 years comes to €800 per month. In contrast the average HAP rent in Dublin is €1,244 per month. This means over a 30-year period, the provision of a typical HAP dwelling in Dublin is almost €275,000 more expensive per unit than if it was provided through state funded local authority building of social housing. This makes the Rebuilding Ireland target of providing 87,000 private rental units €23.8 billion more expensive than providing these units via local authority building, over 30 years.
However, building of social housing by Local Authorities has reduced significantly in recent years. In 2009, 3,362 units were constructed compared with 234 units last year. This decline is due to austerity era policy making, which saw the Department of Environment suffering the second highest proportionate budget reductions between 2008 and 2012.
Social housing also provides significantly greater security for families than the HAP scheme. Report co-author Dr Rory Hearne notes: “The exemption provided in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015 allows landlords to terminate leases by declaring that the property is to be sold or needed for a family member. The issue of security of tenure is particularly important for homeless families who are terrified about re-entering the private rental sector and of putting their children at risk of becoming homeless again. Some rationally determine that it is better to trade a longer wait in emergency homelessness against the likelihood of achieving long-term security through traditional social housing.”
Emergency accommodation “family hubs”, which are another key component of the Rebuilding Ireland programme, were also examined by the Maynooth University report. 254 families will be accommodated in nine newly acquired properties, which, having undergone minor alterations, will open on a staggered basis over summer 2017.
The report expresses significant concerns that the reality of institutional life will, over time, damage families’ ability to function independently. Families interviewed report harsh rules and conditions that prohibit them from interacting in corridors and other kitchens, leaving their children briefly in the care of residents, or allowing their children to play with the other children.
“There is a real danger that family hubs may become the next “direct provision”— an addition to Ireland’s long lamentable experience of institutional responses to social policy. They have emerged as a policy option with little public deliberation and considerable confusion as to their rationale and policy intent. Stable long term housing is the only viable option to resolve family homelessness and any form of emergency accommodation, including family hubs, can only be a very short term solution,” Dr Murphy concluded.
The Maynooth University report is part of the European Union H2020 funded research project Re-Invest. Using a human rights and capability theoretical framework and a participatory approach, the research was conducted in Spring 2017 amongst homeless families in emergency accommodation, key workers providing support, housing NGO’s and policy makers.
Download a PDF of the full report Investing in the Right to a Home: Social Housing, HAPs and HUBS