Friday 18 October 2019

'I'm facing homelessness again' - HAP scheme slammed as 'not even being in line with 2005 rents'

Just 8pc of private rental properties on analysed in a three-day snapshot study were available within the scheme's levels in November 2018. (stock photo)
Just 8pc of private rental properties on analysed in a three-day snapshot study were available within the scheme's levels in November 2018. (stock photo)
Denise Calnan

Denise Calnan

Rent supplement recipients are locked out of 92pc of the rental market, according to Simon Communities' latest report.

The Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) have been slammed as "not even being in line with 2005 rents".

Just 8pc of private rental properties on analysed in a three-day snapshot study were available within the scheme's levels in November 2018.

Furthermore, not one property within HAP was available across any household category in Limerick City Centre and Waterford City Centre.

The private rental sector remains "severely challenging" for rent supplement recipients, according to the report.

One woman, who is accompanied by her elderly mother, told she spent a total of 10 months looking for a landlord that would get involved with HAP.

She had €1,080 to put towards her monthly rent through the Homeless HAP scheme. Paired with 40pc of her social welfare payment and 40pc of her mother's pension, she still struggled to afford a rental home in the areas of Fingal and North Kildare.

"I struggled to find a property that would qualify under my limit, everything was so expensive. And then I struggled to find a landlord that wanted to get involved," the woman, who did not wish to be named, said.

"Show me one house on or on the council listings that qualify under my HAP limit.

"The property I found in January isn't working out. The landlord has done nothing wrong, he agreed to take us and he was taking a huge risk for us.

"It's just working out too expensive for the HAP scheme, so now I'm back at square one facing homelessness again within 24 hours.

"This is my first time applying for anything," she continued, "I've to move out today. I don't know where to put the furniture or anything.

"This week alone I've got five viewings for apartments, but you're standing in a queue of 40 other home-hunters.

"I can't put my mother somewhere without a lift as she has cancer. I need to get a fair chance. I was offered a room on the third floor of a city centre hub.

"How am I supposed to cope?"

She added; "I had so many meetings before I even got approved for HAP. I followed all the rules. It might be better if I just abandoned my mother, she'd fare better."

Homelessness charity Simon Communities are now calling for the implementation of many of the proposals included in the new amended Residential Tenancies Bill 2018, currently under consideration in the Dáil.

The organisation said they are concerned that there are whole areas of the country where it is almost impossible for people depending on HAP to get housing.

The 13th edition of the Simon Communities’ ‘Locked Out of the Market’ report shows that:

92pc (521 properties) of all properties (569) available to rent during the three-day snapshot study period were above RS/HAP limits. This figure was 94pc in August 2018, and 91.5pc in November 2017.

51pc decrease in the number of properties available to rent in November 2018 (569), compared to the first ‘Locked out of the Market’ study in May 2015, when 1,150 properties were available.

Only five properties were available to rent within RS/HAP limits across all study areas for a single person on the dates surveyed.

Spokesperson for the Simon Communities, Paul Sheehan, said that the snapshot study illustrates the need to remain focused on social and affordable housing as the private rental market continues to struggle to meet demand in the ongoing housing crisis.

"The increase in social housing builds last year is welcomed, as is the traction we see in large urban areas with the introduction of Homeless HAP for single people and families. But the pace needs to be accelerated," Mr Sheehan said.

"All options need to be considered in addressing the housing crisis, particularly for those homeless or at risk.

"The Simon Communities of Ireland urge the new amended Residential Tenancies Bill 2018, currently under consideration in the Dáil, be expedited through the Oireachtas so proposals to address many of the loopholes in the existing bill around tenants’ security of tenure be implemented as soon as possible. 

"These proposals could potentially make a huge difference to those who are affected by the lack of affordable housing in the private rental market and help take pressure off over-burdened emergency accommodation."

He also said Rent Pressure Zones need to be properly monitored.

"Almost 10,000 people were forced to start 2019 in emergency accommodation," he continued.

"Without an accessible private rental sector or affordable housing, people have nowhere to go if they cannot afford to rent.

"The State is reliant on the private rental sector to deliver social housing through the Housing Assistant Payment; this continues to be challenging for people stuck in emergency accommodation because the supply is often not there.

"This study shows that the situation continues to be extremely difficult for people on Rent Supplement or HAP, particularly those who are looking for one and two bedroom homes.

"It is alarming that in some of the country’s most-populated urban centres, there is absolutely nowhere to rent for people depending on HAP for their housing. "

However, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has indicated HAP levels will not be reviewed in the short-term.

A spokesman for the minister said: "The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) rent limits were increased significantly in July 2016, including by up to 60pc in some areas. The Government also provides flexibility to each local authority to agree to a HAP payment up to 20pc above the maximum rent limit, where it is necessary, because of local rental market conditions, or up to 50pc in the case of the Homeless HAP.

“Data from the HAP Shared Services Centre suggests that, aligned with the discretion available to local authorities, rent limits are not in need of review at this time. Based on the information available at the end of 2018, discretion was being used in 26.6pc of cases. This means that, for the very significant majority of tenancies, the rent limits in place are sufficient."

Supply is the main challenge and increasing HAP could have negative repercussions for other non-social housing eligible households also dependent on the same supply.

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