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Will landlords forego extra rent to help families on the brink of homelessness?

One charity is asking them to consider it.

A HOUSING CHARITY based in Galway is looking to link up with landlords to help tackle the ongoing housing crisis.

COPE Galway says access to housing is the single biggest issue experienced by its clients.

The group is committed to bringing 16 housing units on stream – eight homes to be provided for rent by local investors and landlords, and a further eight to be provided via direct purchase.

Jacquie Horan, CEO of COPE Galway, says landlords are being asked to make a property available for rent within current Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) and rent supplement levels.

“Landlords would forego the added rent available on the open market, in support of housing for those experiencing homelessness in our local community.

“For example, a landlord willing to forego an extra income of circa €200 per month could provide a house for a family facing homelessness, while continuing to receive an RAS rental income of €850 per month (based on an average three-bedroom house in Galway).

We know landlords want to help – we see this as a vital way to make housing stock available instead of contributing financially to the work we do.

So far one landlord has signed up to the initiative.

He said: “As a landlord, but also as a member of the community, I am as concerned as the rest of us about the rise of homelessness and of people, including whole families, in crisis accommodation in Galway … Ultimately, it’s long-term housing that’s going to make a difference and I’m glad I can help play a small part towards this.”

‘Getting nowhere’

COPE Galway works with approximately 200 households who are experiencing homelessness. Some 45 of these are families are described as being in “critical housing situations”, with 22 (including 53 children) living in emergency accommodation such as hostels, B&Bs, hotels and the charity’s own facilities. A further 18 have received eviction notices.

mother Source: Shutterstock/itsmejust

One parent described their experience of trying to find accommodation in Galway as very difficult.

It’s really hard, watching my children grow so fast and not having a place to call home. Children really need their own space and even a bit of a garden to play in … I’ve rang hundreds of landlords, most of the time I don’t even get a viewing. It’s hard to see an end because I’m really trying but I seem to be getting nowhere.

Horan said the long-term solution to the housing and homeless crisis in Galway and the rest of the country is to “increase the supply of social housing, and to introduce a form of rent certainty into the private rental market”.

“The introduction of recent measures by the government about rent freezing and tax relief to landlords who accept tenants on rent supplement are welcome, but we need immediate solutions to this crisis,” she added.

More information on the initiative can be found on COPE Galway’s website.

Landlords

Stephen Faughnan, chair of the Irish Property Owners’ Association (IPOA), told TheJournal.ie that while some landlords are very concerned about homelessness, “It would be difficult to see a meaningful response” to COPE Galway’s initiative.

“Many landlords would like to help people looking for accommodation, but 70% of landlords have loans and 71% have insufficient income from their rental property to pay their mortgage and their tax liability.”

house Source: Shutterstock/Roman Bodnarchuk

Faughnan said rent supplement levels need to be addressed as “they do not reflect the reality of the market”.

Rent control is not the solution to the current problem, it just leads to a reduction in rental property. The current tax treatment of landlords is driving them from the sector. All other business are allowed to offset legitimate expenses against income, but people letting property are not treated fairly.

“A number of landlords already have tenants paying substantially below market rent and are willing to keep the rent low but the norm is to rent at market rent initially. The government is responsible for housing its citizens, but is failing them.”

He added that many landlords are getting frustrated with the current situation and leaving the sector as a result.

Rent freezes

Last month the government announced a range of measures to tackle the housing crisis, including a two-year rent freeze.

Other initiatives being rolled out include:

  • Landlords will have to give a ‘statutory declaration’ of their intent to sell or use the home for a family member if evicting a resident. They will face fines for breaching these declarations.
  • Landlords who house social tenants will get 100% mortgage interest relief under measures being introduced in the Finance Bill.
  • Development levies for homes sold for less than €300,000 will be abolished in some areas, such as Dublin and Cork. The abolition will only apply for three years before vacant sites are subject to a charge to encourage builders to build on vacant sites.
  • Housing assistance payments (HAPs) are being increased in Cork, Galway, Kildare and Meath, where there will be flexibility for a 20% increase on top of rent supplement limits.
  • In Dublin, families in emergency accommodation will be allowed a HAP increase of up to 50% above rent supplement limits.

The government has committed to spening €2.2 billion on social housing in the coming years.

Environment Minister Alan Kelly recently said the number of council or social houses built by the end of this year will be “significantly higher” than the 20 that were built in the first half of 2015.

His department has insisted that 3,500 social houses are currently under construction and that by 2017 5,000 units per year will have been completed.

- with reporting from Hugh O’Connell; first published 20.30 

Read: ‘I hope it works’: Two-year rent freeze to tackle housing crisis

Read: Given up on owning your own home? Most people have

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Órla Ryan

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