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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 22 May, 2019
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These 'flat to rent' ads show a sobering side to the hunt for housing

They’re part of a new campaign to raise awareness about the work SVP does, and the need for social housing.

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THEY LOOK LIKE ordinary adverts for flats and houses – and that’s the point of the images on the window of the St Vincent de Paul (SVP) shop on Dublin’s South Great George’s St.

But if you look closely, the adverts tell a sobering tale:

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For two days, the front window of the SVP shop is being turned into a Hidden Homeless estate agency window, in a bid to draw attention to SVP’s concern at the housing and homeless crisis and the lack of social housing in Ireland.

SVP says that the hidden homeless “are people and families in hotels and B&Bs, made homeless by hikes in private rented sector rents and also people making do with cold, damp and poor quality rental units or ‘sofa surfing’ in the homes of friends or extended family”.

It says such people are a major concern for them as its members visit them, every week of the year, across Ireland but particularly in and around Dublin, Cork and other cities.

SVP directly assists in preventing homelessness, in an informal way, for low income families in private rented housing who face significant rent increases.

“SVP volunteers assist with practical support including financial assistance and referral to relevant agencies. SVP also provides social housing and emergency accommodation and is therefore at the heart of the housing and homelessness issue,” John-Mark McCafferty, SVP Head of Social Justice and Policy, said.

The charity says it wants to see “real progress” on the targets for 2016 set out in Rebuilding Ireland, the Government action plan for housing.

Swift action

There are 90,000 households waiting for social housing across Ireland, and over 2,000 children living in homeless accommodation in Dublin.

“We need swift action on social housing to meet the needs of these families,” said McCafferty.

The situation for many families is critical, he said. “Since August 2015 in Dublin alone the number of families living in homeless accommodation has jumped from 607 to 998 and the number of children in those families has gone from 1,275 to 2,012. In addition average rents nationwide have risen by 40% since 2012.”

The target for real social housing units to be completed or acquired in 2016 by local authorities set in Rebuilding Ireland is 4,240, says SVP.

Government needs to ensure that enough stock is built and bought to ensure that targets for real social housing are met, alongside the fitting out of current void units and rapid build (modular housing) programme.

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McCafferty told TheJournal.ie that the ads “[are] fictitious but they tell a real story about the kind of families, the kind of people that the SVP is assisting every week in communities across the country, especially in the cities.”

He described SVP’s work as “invisible work” being done by volunteers, who have also been “witnessing very poor physical standards in the private rented sector”.

The ads were put together after SVP volunteers described what they were seeing in their roles.

What we got was a whole host of issues like people being priced out of their tenancies, people being worried about being priced out of their tenancies, and hanging on with their fingernails. And then others who are living in simply deplorable physical conditions, dampness, holes in walls, small living places, people sofa surfing – which is particularly disturbing when you find families doing that.

SVP will be raising the issue with the government, and its key ask is for more social housing than is committed to.

“Because the only solution to the homeless and housing crisis will be a significant change in the provision of real social housing units for people.”

Social housing

McCafferty said that in the last five years, the private rented sector has been the main reason why people are moving into homelessness, coupled with the dearth of social housing and the promises on social housing that “simply didn’t materialise to the volume required”.

“I think there’s been a deliberate commitment by both big parties since the 1980s to not build social housing,” said McCafferty.

“I think there’s been a very conscious, deliberate commitment to sell off social housing, for local authorities to get out of social housing and for the state to divest its responsibility for the provision of social housing and facilitate the private rented sector.”

One of the first casualties of the boom has been low income families who should have been in social housing but are in private rented sector environments.

He said a focus for the government should be ensuring it has the resources to provide the capital funding for the volume of accommodation needed.

He also said that the emphasis on the private rental sector needs to be shifted, and that issues with this sector need to be tackled.

“It’s a landlord’s market; it’s very much the case if you don’t want that cold damp unit, someone else will take it,” he said, describing how the private rented sector is the way into homelessness for some people.

“The ultimate goal really is a much broader deeper provision of more social housing units,” said McCafferty, adding that the Ireland “as a society does have a problem with social housing”.

“There are negative stories absolutely but they’re usually because social housing has been built on a scale and in a concentration which has not led to a social mix,” he said.

The key is to provide social housing which is socially mixed.

He said that Ireland could follow the lead of other countries when it comes to social housing, and reduce the stigma around it.

“Communities need to accept different tenures in an area, social housing in their area albeit a mixed way,” he said.

“These communities need to be much more sustainable and much more mixed. Making room not just politically but also in our communities and our hearts for social housing.”

The SVP campaign is being supported by daft.ie who are including links on its site to the ‘Hidden Homeless’ estate agency.

Read: Coveney says including second-hand homes in first-time buyers scheme would drive up prices>

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