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Covid-19 eviction moratorium helped families - but did not reduce homelessness among single adults

There were 4,495 adults without child dependents classified as homeless nationally in October.

Image: Shutterstock

THE GOVERNMENT’S EVICTION moratorium helped to reduce child and family homelessness during the pandemic, but the level of single adult homelessness remained static despite the ‘unprecedented’ policy.

As part of the support measures introduced for Ireland’s first lockdown back in March, an eviction moratorium and a ban on rent increases were introduced. The government again legislated for an eviction moratorium in late October to stop termination notices being served during Level 5 restrictions. 

Housing charity Threshold has said the eviction moratorium did help to reduce child and family homelessness by about 25%.

However it did not have the same impact on the number of adults without dependents who are experiencing homelessness. The charity said there are less affordable housing options for those without children than there are for families, as well as the shortfall in the HAP payments for this group.

Figures from the Department of Housing for the week of 19 October to 25 October showed there were 4,495 adults without child dependents classified as homeless nationally. In Dublin the figure passed 3,000 for the first time since records began in this format in 2015.

This compares with a total of 4,294 nationally and 2,829 in Dublin back in February.

Anne-Marie O’Reilly, policy offer at Threshold said the level of homelessness among single adults has “virtually stayed the same, which is really disappointing.”

“When the moratorium was introduced in March, there was an obvious expectation that it would have an impact and it’s great to see the impact it had for families. But when we started to get stuck into the numbers it was a bit of a sting to realise that for those without children not much had changed for them.”

She said the moratorium kept families who otherwise would have entered homelessness in their homes, while accommodation became available for those who were already living in homeless accommodation. The lack of affordable one-bed accommodation, however, prevented a similar situation for those without children. 

“Family homelessness is a huge issue an has been in Ireland for the last seven years or more, but all that time there have been adults and couples also experiencing homelessness and those numbers increased also,” O’Reilly said.

“There is not a huge focus on them and what the solutions are for them.

“Part of the reason there was an impact for families is that accommodation became available for them to be able to move out of homelessness. There is a lack of rental properties that are affordable for single people and couples even with homeless HAP, there wasn’t really anywhere for them to move to.”

She said the moratorium on evictions was “unprecedented” but the minimal impact on those without children demonstrates that the solutions are rarely singular when it comes to homelessness. Policy changes need to happen alongside other actions, she said; in this case an increase in affordable accommodation that is suitable for single people and couples without children.

“This is something Threshold and other commentators have been saying for years, it’s not new that there are so many people in need of one-bed housing units, but it’s not been happening.” O’Reilly said.

The reliance on the private market for social housing feeds into the issue, she said, as this market tends to build mainly family homes. 

“Institutional investors could have an important role in helping to meet this housing need in Ireland, but it can’t just be all high-end flat apartments that can only be afforded by a small cohort of people. That’s definitely one of the challenges in the housing sector, there is such a lack of choice.

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“And what was frustrating about the co-living developments is that they were only ever meant to be for a very small proportion of the market.

“The expectation was that people would choose to live there, but if they don’t have choices they may end up there even if they don’t want to. The likes of co-living developments and high end apartments are not meeting the need we actually have.”

Throughout the pandemic many tenants have been turning to Theshold for advice about their tenancies, particularly in light of changed financial circumstances.

“One thing we are concerned about is the take-up of rent supplement – that wasn’t on par with the number of people losing work. The ESRI has shown that renters were disproportionately affected by the pandemic,” O’Reilly said.

“We know from calls we received there were people who didn’t know about rent supplement, it had never come on their radar before. That may be part of it, but we can only speculate as to why people haven’t sought that additional support. 

“We do know that renters will prioritise rent over everything else. It’s difficult to determine the level of rent arrears out there and it may be that people are paying their rent but ten falling behind on other bills or struggling to meet basic needs.”

O’Reilly said the charity will be watching the issue closely as we move into the new year as renters may struggle to sustain this and will no longer have the protection of an eviction moratorium.

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