‘There are no more hotel rooms in Dublin Central, there are no more B&Bs – I don’t know where we are going to put people’
A Government TD has warned that a decision to lift the winter ban on evictions at the end of this month will result in large numbers of people becoming homeless, saying it was putting the interests of landlords ahead of ordinary people.
Green Party Dublin Central TD Neasa Hourigan criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and questioned the position of her own party and what it stands for.
The legislation underpinning the ban provides for the moratorium to be phased out over the coming months to ensure there is not a sudden wave of evictions before fully ending in June, and the ending of the ban must be signed off today by Cabinet.
However, the Government is to examine incentives for small landlords to stay in the market – including bigger tax breaks – and increased rights for tenants, such as first right of refusal if a property is put up for sale, for either the tenant or an approved housing body.
Opposition TDs and homelessness organisations also criticised the move.
“I can guarantee you that next month I will be sitting in constituency clinics and there will be mammies coming into me saying ‘I am being evicted through no fault of my own. This is no fault evictions and I am now going to have to move, my children are going to have to be removed from their school and go somewhere else',” Ms Hourigan told RTÉ Radio One.
“There are no more hotel rooms in Dublin Central, there are no more B&Bs, I genuinely do not know where we are going to put people. The eviction ban was like a sticking plaster in an emergency situation so that we could take action in the meantime and do the radical surgery, but the housing minister and the three leaders of the Coalition haven't done that surgery. We haven't done the things that we needed to do before we lifted the ban.”
She said she was “embarrassed to be on a national radio station” talking about plans for tenants to be given ‘first refusal’ on properties they lived in when they were being sold.
"If people had the resources and the financial means to buy a property, they would be doing that already and if we [the State] were serious about buying properties on behalf of, let's say, local authorities or AHBs [Approved Housing Bodies] then we'd actually have to borrow money in a serious way, and not the piecemeal way we've been doing so far,” she said.
She called for measures such as removing sale as a reason for eviction, tax breaks for landlords offering “forever” and longer tenancies, and reduction in capital gains tax for selling to a state or semi-state body, as well as financing the purchase of homes for purchase by the State for cost rental.
“None of those things have been put in place during the eviction ban… This is a completely heartless decision and I know my constituency isn’t unique, but I can't tell you the impact this is going to have in Dublin Central. Our homelessness services are already beyond breaking points,” Ms Hourigan said.
She also questioned how the decision was made and criticised both the Taoiseach and her own party.
“I am not given to understand that there's any real debate in that [Cabinet] room happening, but if rubber-stamping is not the case, then I would urge them to reflect in that room what is actually Green Party policy – this decision does not reflect that,” she said.
“Nobody is suggesting that this eviction ban is a permanent ban. What I am suggesting is take a few months and get this right. Do some actual protection of tenants. This is about priorities and I really hope that you know everybody in that room thinks about that.”
She also hit out at the Taoiseach, saying: “The Government is led by a Fine Gael Taoiseach and I suspect this process of kind of putting the investment interests of people who have two or three homes ahead of the basic needs of people who have none, suits Fine Gael fairly well. But it doesn't suit the Green Party and I think we need to be clear,” she said.
Mr Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, along with Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien, held a lengthy discussion on the eviction ban.
Mr O'Brien will now bring a memo to Cabinet today outlining plans to allow the ban lapse while also telling colleagues he will seek a significant budget package for renters and landlords.
A spokesperson said: “Minister O’Brien discussed the winter eviction moratorium this evening with the three leaders. It was agreed that he would bring a detailed memo to Cabinet where there will be further discussions with Government colleagues.”
The Cabinet will also discuss measures to help tenants buy their first homes and give housing agencies the first refusal on property sales in certain circumstances.
Tenants will have first right of refusal on the sale of a house they are living under Government plans to tackle the housing crisis.
The move, which is similar to legislation in France, will give renters the option of putting a bid on the house they are living in if the owners put it up for sale.
Cabinet will also look at measures for increasing social housing and student accommodation supply. Budgetary measures for landlords will be announced later in the year
Landlords could get tax breaks worth €14,000 a year at a cost of up to €794m for the taxpayer as part of a Government plan to keep them in the rental market.
The Coalition is examining a number of proposals aimed at securing tenancies and reducing homelessness.
John-Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of housing charity Threshold, said the lifting of the ban would mean a jump in the number of people becoming homeless.
"The problem is, there's very few places or nowhere for them to go in terms of the wider housing market and we're also very much aware of the limits at local authority level in terms of emergency accommodation.
"That's the floor, that's supposed to be the safety net where families [and] individuals turn to when there are no more housing options out there,” he told RTÉ.
“So, I guess my question to the Government is, what do we advise people and families about those options when the notice of terminations start to become triggered from April/May onwards?
“We understand a moratorium can't last forever and moratoria aren't an ideal solution in a properly functioning housing market. The problem is, this is not a properly functioning housing market, especially in the private rented sector.”
Focus Ireland chief executive Pat Dennigan called on the Government to extend the moratorium, arguing that lifting it would amount to “turning on the tap into homelessness and making an absolutely shameful situation even worse”.
Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin and other Opposition figures also hit out at the Government.
Mr Ó Broin said very significant numbers of people will now lose their homes in coming months as a result of the decision, with some ending up sleeping in garda stations as a result.
“Just imagine being one of those families with children last night on hearing the announcements that you have a notice to quit and the due date falls on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd of April, and you now have nowhere to go come that date,” the Dublin Mid-West TD said on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.
He said that because the Government had failed to increase the supply of social and affordable housing, it should not be lifting the ban.
“I've never argued for an indefinite ban on evictions, but I argued last year that a temporary ban on evictions, accompanied by a series of emergency measures to prevent people coming becoming homeless and increased the supply and social affordable housing, was required,” Mr Ó Broin said.
“The Government didn't do the second of those. In fact, they did nothing extra to deliver more social and affordable homes over the period of this ban and that is why we’re in an even worse situation than before.
“Landlords are not responsible for this crisis. Bad government policy is, but single property landlords have been leaving in significant numbers since 2017. We've lost 40,000 rental tenancies, and the Government has done nothing.
Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit said his party would now organise protest marches against what he called an “inhuman shameful decision that is going to inflict cruel hardship on thousands of families, individuals and worst of all children and elderly and vulnerable people”.
He added: “It really suggests that this Government just doesn't care about people who are faced with the terrifying prospect of homelessness when there is nowhere else for them to go — when there is virtually no affordable rental accommodation out there.”
Local authorities have not delivered the scale of social and affordable housing necessary to meet the demand of the housing emergency, he pointed out.
“What the Government has done today is consign housings and thousands of vulnerable people to the terrifying situation of being made homeless, but they may not even be able to get emergency accommodation in place.
However, Fine Gael senator John Cummins defended the move.
“We all acknowledge the difficulties and constraints that are there, within the housing sector, but we are taking action. We are ramping up the supply of housing – supply is key here, everyone across all sectors in society acknowledges that. You know, we have put in the measures in place and will continue to do that,” he said.
A confidential options paper drafted for ministers said “significant fiscal incentives” for landlords will be needed to “withstand legal challenge” if the ban is extended.
Ministers were warned incentives will have to be “substantial in nature”.
The research document outlines a series of tax packages specifically aimed at encouraging landlords to stay in the sector.
This includes introducing a new €14,000 tax break for landlords modelled on the rent-a-room scheme which gives homeowners a tax relief on rental income for renting a room in their own home.
The Department of Finance said the proposed tax exemption could cost between €397m and €794m.
Another option would see landlords given a €9,600 tax exemption similar to the Accommodation Recognition Payment which is paid to people who have housed refugees fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in their own homes.
This would cost between €317m and €634m, according to the research paper.
The document also proposes a Local Property Tax deduction for landlords or cuts to PRSI or USC.
“A combination of smaller measures could be considered, but would need further examination to see if they would sufficiently compensate for interference with landlord’s constitutional proper rights,” it added.
The options paper suggests the tax cuts will be necessary if the Government extended the no-fault clause eviction ban for another two years.
It also suggests introducing a so-called “winter truce” model based on the system in France which sees evictions banned during the colder months.
Speaking at an event in Waterford, the Taoiseach said the Government is seeking to balance the rights of tenants and landlords.
“I think anyone who’s been following this debate understands that it’s not a black and white decision. There are pros and cons. We have to weigh that up, and Cabinet will make a decision,” Mr Varadkar said
“It’s a balance of a number of different rights so one of the things that we’re facing at the moment, which is a real difficulty, is people coming home from abroad.
“30,000 people come home from abroad every year – some of them own houses and apartments and are not able to move back into them. People who have bought an apartment or a house for their kids to use when they go to college – not being able to access them is an issue for property owners,” he added.