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'A chronic over-reliance': 76% of social housing came from the private rental sector last year

Opposition politicians, housing experts and NGO officials have all criticised an overreliance on the private sector.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Rollingnews.ie

THE GOVERNMENT HAS come in for strong criticism for what has been called an over-reliance on the private sector for delivering social housing support across the country.

Opposition politicians, housing experts and NGO officials have all levelled criticism at the Fine Gael minority government following the publication of its 2017 housing report.

The report stated that 25,892 households had their social housing needs met in 2017 – a marked rise on the previous year.

This is 23% above the target of 21,050 that is set out in Rebuilding Ireland – the government’s Housing Action Plan, which was published in July 2016.

However, in total there were just 2,245 units of social housing newly built last year (slightly below target).

As well as this, 1,757 “voids” (old social housing units not in use) were brought back into use, and 2,266 new units were acquired.

This brings to 6,268 the total number of houses built, brought back into use or acquired last year.

The remaining 19,624 (76%) of the households were supported in tenancies in the private rental sector, and not in traditional social housing.

HAP

Of this number, 17,916 were tenancies set up through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP).

HAP was introduced in recent years to assist people who have a long-term housing need. It has been available across the country since March of last year

Under HAP, local authorities (like Dublin City Council, Cork City Council, etc) pay landlords rent directly on behalf of tenants.

The private rental property must be within a certain cost limit depending on where it’s located and the size of the home. As well as this, the tenant needs to be on the social housing waiting list to avail of HAP.

There’s also a special homeless HAP available in Dublin that allows for higher rent limits if necessary for homeless households.

Social housing needs met

Households receiving HAP are deemed to have their social housing needs met, and are taken off the social housing list.

However, opposition politicians, housing experts and NGO officials all say a tenant on HAP is in a far more unstable position than someone living in traditional social housing.

“This once again confirms the Governments chronic over reliance on the private sector to meet social housing need,” said Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin

It is deeply dishonest to describe the 19,624 subsidised private rental tenancies as social housing.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ó Broin said that by putting such large number of households into HAP would result in “a lot of people in insecure tenancies”.

He said that pushing people into the private rental market – when the supply was already very low – was “shoring up a whole range of problems for the future”.

(There have also been numerous problems reported with HAP over the past year)

His comments were echoed by Diarmaid O’Sullivan – regional services manager with housing charity Threshold.

“There is a huge reliance there in the private rental sector to deliver social housing,” said O’Sullivan.

He said from Threshold’s experience, HAP tenancies were far less secure than traditional social housing.

Landlords also have the option of evicting tenants if they wish to use the house for another purpose, which is not the case with normal social housing.

“We would be concerned about an over reliance on the private rental sector,” he said.

As well as this, O’Sullivan questioned how many of the households listed in yesterday’s report were already in receipt of rental supplement and were switched onto HAP.

A Housing Department spokesperson confirmed that of the 17,916 HAP tenancies set-up in 2017, 3,185 were transfers from Rent Supplement.

“HAP will replace Rent Supplement for those with a long-term housing need who qualify for social housing support,” the spokesperson said.

“HAP offers those households in receipt of Rent Supplement a more secure form of support with their housing needs.

Most significantly, HAP allows families to increase their income without the risk of losing their housing support. Therefore, it offers families more security and allows them to plan for their future. It is an entirely different support as distinct from Rent Supplement.

You can view the Housing Delivery 2017 report here

Read: The Housing Department doesn’t know how many homes were built last year

Read: The number of homeless families staying in hotels in Dublin has shot up once again

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