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The reality of house hunting on HAP 'Please don’t call back if I don’t email you the address'

A HAP applicant stands no chance against a well paid individual seeking the same property, writes Chris O’Donnell.

IN MARCH 2017, the completion of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme was announced. There was a grand hurrah in the Dáil, a pat on the back for Minister Simon Coveney, and it seemed for one short lived moment as if this grand scheme may actually ameliorate the dire housing crisis which Ireland, in particular Dublin, now finds itself creaking under.

Except they overlooked one crucial tenet: why on earth would a landlord willingly bother to avail of it?

Why indeed. There are different sub-categories within the scheme, but I speak with an insider’s view on the homeless HAP scheme, and just how soul-destroyingly difficult it is to get a homeless HAP property in today’s housing crisis.

It looks good on paper

Now, on paper the HAP looks very good. The council pay the bulk of the rent, and the tenant pays an amount which is indexed to income. The landlord even gets some tax relief.

But compare this seemingly sound scheme to stigma around poorer socioeconomic groups, and, as I discovered, the fear that comes with allowing such people to inhabit a landlord’s property, and you’re going to come up against some serious issues.

It shows in the statistics. Since HAP’s inception, there have been just 1,641 homes let out to the homeless. Compare this with the figures we’re actually experiencing: 8,000 in emergency accommodation (bearing in mind that 3,000 of those are children.)

And that doesn’t even cover the hidden homeless or those who choose to sleep rough rather than enter the homeless hostel system. The HAP system for the homeless quite simply isn’t working.

My 7-month search

As for my own story with the homeless HAP, after one week of what turned out to be a seven month long search, I started referring to it as ‘the HAP bomb’. Everything would be going fine on the phone. Pleasant conversation, a quick chat about landlord and work references. I play music, so do not earn very much, but had several references.

Then, when I would mention that I would be availing of the HAP scheme, an inevitable change of tone would follow: ‘There’ll be a lot of people there.’ ‘I wouldn’t want to waste your time.’ ‘Please don’t call back if I don’t email you the address.’

The list of responses after the HAP bomb was dropped became blackly entertaining when I became immune to how crushing it was.

Now consider the homeless population who are far less fortunate than me. I was given a good education, and had references (several of which would have gone to a ‘moot’ pile because of the trauma of homelessness if I’d had to stick it out any longer).

What about the people who don’t have the references, or the resources, or the right accent, or the right clothes? Who’s going to house them? Getting a place has become akin to a job interview, and with homeless HAP people aren’t even being allowed to show up.

It’s already illegal to discriminate

Certainly the estate agents are aware of the law that it is illegal to discriminate against HAP applicants. This means they are obliged to say yes but as I realised a HAP applicant stands no chance against a well-remunerated individual seeking the same property.

And why would the landlord avail of the scheme? Even if they are going on good conscience (which the HAP seemed to rely on and which is totally unrealistic in the middle of a property boom with soaring rental prices), they face a massive delays in getting their deposit and first month rent, on top of which they have to fill out reams of paperwork. It is simply not appealing to any landlords, no matter how well-meaning some of them are.

In short, the HAP system is simply not working. Coveney refuses to acknowledge that, and in the face of ever increasing barriers we can only expect the homelessness epidemic to escalate further. What needs to be called is a national emergency.

This is an epidemic on a massive scale. We need more houses, more social supports, and far, far more supports for the homeless population. They are suffering in ways which you have to experience to fully understand. Only when we come to terms with the length and breadth of the problem can we hope to begin to tackle it in a constructive and problem-solving way.

Christine O’Donnell is interested in writing on topics related to mental health, LGBT rights and marginalised groups within Irish society. She is also a musician and volunteers her spare time to fundraise for causes she feels strongly about.

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Christine O'Donnell
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