Christine O’Donnell considers herself lucky. The flat she got through the Homeless HAP scheme is a nice one, in a nice area of Dublin.
She was homeless for seven months, but after dozens of viewings and hundreds of emails, she scored an apartment in Ranelagh.
There are a few reasons she ended up there, in one of the more affluent parts of town, she thinks. “I had loads of references with me, I dressed up and I had a nice accent,” she says.
She didn’t choose the area, as such – she applied for places all over the city, and just happened to get one in Ranelagh. Most tenants who rely on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) programme are probably like her, and will take a home more or less wherever they can get one, she says.
When councillors and government officials talk about social housing, the conversation often veers towards the question of how to blend neighbourhoods to mix people on different incomes.
There are four main types of housing subsidies at the moment.
Rent Supplement (RS) is designed to help those on low incomes to pay rent in the private-rented sector. If, for example, somebody becomes unemployed and has few savings, they might claim rent supplement to help them cover their rent.
The Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) is open to those who have been on rent supplement for more than 18 months. Under RAS, the local authority secures the tenant a home, making a deal with a landlord for five or 10 years. The tenant pays a rent based on their income to the local authority, who passes it on to the landlord.
The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is made up of two schemes: Housing HAP and Homeless HAP.
Under HAP, the tenant also pays a rent based on their income, but unlike those on RS or RAS, those who go onto HAP are moved off the main social-housing list.
Homeless HAP is for homeless households or those at risk of homelessness, and the amount of rent allowed is significantly higher than all other rent subsidies.
There are 17,593 households on rent supplement in the Dublin Region as of September 2017, according to the Department of Social Protection.
There are 1,325 households in Dublin City Council area on RAS, as of early October, according to Dublin City Council.
There are 308 households on Housing HAP in Dublin City Council area as of early August, according to Dublin City Council.
There are 1,102 households on Homeless HAP in Dublin City Council area, as of late November according to Dublin Regional Homeless Executive.
And recent figures for different neighbourhoods show that tenants who rely on rent-subsidies are far from spread evenly across the city.
In the North Inner City
With 337 households, the North Inner City has the most households on HAP of any municipal area in the city, according to the November figures from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive.
Cabra-Finglas is in second place, with 292 households, and Beaumont-Donaghmede slots in third with 246 households.
At the other end of the scale – and on the other side of the city – there are only 13 HAP tenancies in Templeogue-Terenure, and 17 in Pembroke South Dock.
Those are big areas, and the figures are small, but there are clusters of tenants on rent subsidies in the North Inner City, says Social Democrats Councillor Gary Gannon. “There are absolute clusters, they are unofficial but they are there,” he says.
They are often low-standard accommodation, including converted Georgian houses that are given over just to these rental schemes, Gannon says.
The more modern apartment blocks, meanwhile, are less likely to host HAP tenants. “There are quite clearly blocks of apartments where they don’t accept HAP or rent allowance,” says Gannon. “It comes down to very basic snobbery and I don’t know how you legislate for that.”
“There is an issue of ghettoisation in Dublin,” says Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe.
HAP tenancies, local-authority accommodation and homeless accommodation appear to be heavily concentrated in Dublin 1, 7 and 8, he says.
If you look at other figures from the Department of Social Protection on 30 September housing supports, Dublin 15 has the highest number of tenants on rent supplement in the Dublin postcodes.
In Dublin city, Dublin 7 has the highest number of tenants on rent supplement, with 1,557. Meanwhile, Dublin 2 has just 83 tenants claiming rent supplement.
It is tough to create mixed-tenure in the current housing crisis, said Cuffe. But “if we want a city that is not ghettoised, we need to think imaginatively about how to combat this.”
One positive move would be for the council to make sure that there are mixed housing developments on its own land, he says.
Living Near Others
There is a risk that attempts to create a social mix can just make life more difficult for those who want to live nearer to support networks.
Many in the north inner city value the transport links and the fact that they live close to their extended family, who might help them with childcare, says Councillor Gannon. “It’s absolutely normal and entirely understandable,” he says.
Aideen Hayden, the chairperson of the national housing charity Threshold agrees. “People have a right to live close to their families,” she says. “There are supports that people need, and in social-housing communities those links tend to be stronger.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Noeleen Reilly is a long-time critic of the ban on new applications for rental subsidies in Ballymun, which was brought in in 2007 as a way to change social mix.
“It hasn’t made a blind bit of difference, but it just means people have to leave the area they grew up in,” she says. (According to September council figures, 33 households are on HAP in Ballymun.)
It’s hard enough to find a landlord who will take rent subsidies, and the ban just adds another hurdle, says Reilly. She wants the ban lifted there, or better, permanent homes for younger people.
Decision makers don’t understand what it’s like for younger mothers in the neighborhood, who might be more able to return to the workforce if they were able to get on HAP and stay closer to parents, she says.
“Young women in Ballymun that may be lone parents have been treated very badly by the regeneration,” says Reilly. “I don’t think they have been given any hope that there’s a better future out there for them. They are stuck in a poverty trap, and it is just deeply, deeply unfair.”
Changing the Rules
As long as public-housing provision is only for people on the lowest incomes, Dublin will continue to have ghettoisation, says Councillor Cuffe. This, in turn, contributes to social exclusion and unemployment, he says.
Councillor Gannon agrees that building mixed public housing is the solution. He grew up in social housing, and says it’s important to create a social mix, to remove the stigma and give children a wide range of role models.
It is widely accepted that concentrating social disadvantage in one area has negative consequences, says Hayden, of Threshold. That is why governments are no longer willing to build 100 percent social-housing estates and apartment blocks like they did in the past, she says.
But she thinks it is unlikely that the government will expand access to public housing to those on higher incomes anytime soon. Although she says that this would be ideal.
Instead, “genuinely mixed” housing should be built on private lands as well as public, Hayden says.
In the meantime, private rental solutions like RAS, Rent Supplement and HAP have contributed to generating a tenure mix and are essential in light of the city’s lack of social housing, especially for single people, she says.
“I do not believe that we can continue to rely on the private rental sector in the long term,” Hayden says. “But in the short term, it is the only game in town and what we have to do is make sure it is secure, it is affordable and it is of good quality.”
Most subsidised rentals are centred in disadvantaged areas for a simple reason. “It is largely down to price. Rental values are very attuned to location,” says Hayden.
The limits of the subsidised housing schemes are set to give recipients access to the bottom 35 percent of the housing market, says Hayden. “I think taking the 35th percentile is flawed,” she says.
The subsidised housing schemes needs to be designed in such a way as to create mixed communities, she says.
The local authority does also have the discretion to pay 20 percent more than the limits and they should use that discretion to help ensure there is tenure mix, she says.
Homeless HAP is different though, and should be sufficient to secure good quality accommodation. For homeless households or those at risk of homelessness, the local authority has the discretion to pay 50 percent more than the limit, so that is a “reasonably generous scheme”, she says.
That means that recipients of Homeless HAP, like Christine O’Donnell, can afford more expensive housing, and therefore may well end up renting in different neighbourhoods to people who are on RS, RAS, or Housing HAP.
Tenants on other schemes, which don’t offer subsidies that are as large, often make a deal with the landlord to pay extra on top of what the state pays, in order to secure a home, Hayden says.