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Dublin: 16°C Monday 27 June 2022

Column: We are not approaching a homeless crisis, we are here – the crisis is underway

We have never before had a housing crisis of this scale that affects such a wide spectrum of people, writes Catherine Murphy TD.

Catherine Murphy TD

EVERY WEEK I deal with families who are on the verge of homelessness or are already living in temporary accommodation. I see children being uprooted from schools, families torn apart, and lives disrupted in the most chaotic way.

Minister Burton would have us believe that the rent caps are adequate, and that those who can’t find accommodation in their chosen area can just simply up sticks and move to an area where they can secure accommodation under the rental limit. Sounds easy? What about those with children who have put down roots with friends, schools, after school activities, etc? What about those who rely on family or friends in an area and who may not be in a position to work without the childcare and emotional support provided? What about those with close community ties to an area who cannot be expected to head off to another county because they have been priced out of the market by unreasonable rental limits? I could go on. Who among us could happily say that they could shift their entire life and that of their children, to another county within the space of a week, against their will?

Claims of a homelessness crisis, and concerns about the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets are nothing new. For decades we have faced the horrific problem of people sleeping rough across our towns and cities, with particular problems in our main urban centres. What is new however is the demographic of those on the streets now or those facing imminent homelessness. Whereas in the past the majority of homeless people tended to be single, now we are seeing a major surge in families with young children being affected by the issue.

A myriad of socio-economic groups affected

This time around, homelessness is a multi-faceted issue. We have a myriad of different socio-economic groups currently affected. Those who had secured a home, who had their mortgage and who know find themselves in the position of simply not being in a position to sustain that mortgage and having exhausted every possibility of keeping their home.

Those on the social housing waiting lists who, year after year, await a call from their local authority and meanwhile are forced to try and secure private rented accommodation. Those who are in the private rented sector and reliant on rent supplement are finding that the unrealistic rent caps are making it impossible to secure or maintain reasonable accommodation. Those who had entered into shared ownership mortgages with the local authorities, many of whom are now wondering will they ever have the opportunity to purchase the other side of the equity – it was always assumed that inflation would take care of this issue but that is simply not going to be the case.

This is not a simplistic issue. There will be a significant knock-on effect of large scale evictions for example. Bear in mind that those people who have run into serious troubles with their bank, to the extent that they lose their home, are unlikely to ever get a mortgage again. Where do they go? They go on the already overloaded social housing lists. The system buckles further. We set ourselves up for yet more problems in the future and a continuation and exacerbation of the current homelessness crisis.

Rental limits are a real problem

We cannot continue to deny that the rental limits are a real problem. Just recently Daft.ie issued its latest report on the average rent prices across the country. Few, if any of them, corresponded with the rent limits set by the Department of Social Protection. Most of them were significantly different.

This is an area that must be addressed urgently. There are options that have not been fully explored. The problem is that the issue is not seen as urgent enough. The European Investment Fund has a facility that could help alleviate the problem by helping to fund housing associations, yet associations such as Respond and other tier three housing associations have told the Environment Committee that because of the Government’s delay in establishing a national regulatory framework that would officially recognise these associations as being eligible for European Investment Bank funding, they are not in a position to draw down funds from this source.

Most of us, as part of our daily commute, will pass by at least one person huddled in a doorway. The recent bad weather makes this sight even more harrowing. We are facing into a situation where we could realistically see whole families in this situation if the urgency of this issue is not recognised and addressed. This, then, has the collateral damage effect of pushing the more traditional user of homeless services out onto the streets.

People are panicked and afraid

This is not an anecdotal tale. Homeless officers in the local authorities are telling me that they have never before witnessed a housing crisis of this scale that affects such a wide spectrum of people. I have people in my office literally panicking because they don’t know where they are going to be living next week with their children. This panic transfers to the children involved and the knock-on effects of this creates more problems, be it schoolwork or emotional security.

It has got be acknowledged as a crisis and there has got to be a targeted response. That response will be different in different areas and with different demographics, but action is needed urgently. Lending to those who can sustain a mortgage must recommence, funding to the Local Authorities and the Housing Associations must be prioritised. Security of tenure within the private rental sector must be addressed; we must seek to inject a new type of tenure into the private rental equation, with a balance of rights and responsibilities between both tenant and landlord and an increased professionalism in the rental sector overall. The building of social housing developments must recommence to alleviate the pressure on the housing lists.

These measures could go some way towards mitigating what is nothing less than a housing crisis across the country. First and foremost, though, we must accept that we are not approaching crisis point, we are here – the crisis is underway. The time for talking about this is long gone; action is required now.

Catherine Murphy is an Irish independent politician from Leixlip in County Kildare. Follow her on Twitter @CathMurphyTD

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