Who Should Be Prioritised for Social Housing?

Darren Delaney was raised in state care from the age of three and first became homeless when he was 17, he says.

He recalls that the residential unit he was living in was closed down and he was placed in a homeless hostel for 16 to 18-year olds called Off the Streets in Smithfield. Once he turned 18, he got a place in a HSE-run aftercare facility.

But then “when I turned 21 because I wasn’t in full-time education they said they couldn’t keep me on”, he says. “I was basically chucked out on my own to fend for myself.”

When Delaney stepped into homelessness, he wasn’t transferred from aftercare to a hostel, he says, but was given the emergency phone number for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive. “They handed me the freephone number which was a big shock in life,” he says.

Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello says that young men and women like Delaney, who have been in care, and for whom the state has been responsible, should be top priority for social housing.

Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh has also argued that the current system by which social housing is allocated needs to be tweaked, as going by “time on the list” discriminates against young people.

With social housing in short supply, Dublin city councillors have set up a subcommittee to look again at whether the system could be fairer.

Who Gets Housing?

Until 2012, Dublin City Council had a different system for deciding who got social housing and who had to wait a bit longer.

Under that system, people were awarded points for the different problems or issues they had, such as medical needs or overcrowding, all on one list. 

Dublin City Council was the only local authority that didn’t work off a time-on-list system, says Sinn Féin’s Ní Dhálaigh, but it was instructed by the central government to start.

Ní Dhálaigh supported the move to “time on the list” as she says it is overall a fairer system. Some people were living in “squalor” or in other severe conditions in order to get housed, she says.

Costello agrees that “time on the list” is fairer overall. “We are looking at the bands, we are not moving back to the points-based system,” says Costello. “The problem was you could get points for anything, so it was seen as less transparent.”

The council cannot make substantial changes to the scheme of lettings anyway, says Ní Dhálaigh, that is decided upon by the central government – but it can make recommendations, which is what they plan to do.

Under the current scheme of lettings, there are three different “bands” or streams, and people with varying levels of need.

In Band 1, which is the shortest list, are people who have medical issues that are exacerbated by their housing situation, homeless people, and Travellers. Care leavers are also in this bracket, says Ní Dhálaigh.

Those who are living in severely overcrowded conditions are in Band 2, which is a medium-length list compared to the others, and Band 3 is for people with general housing needs.

Houses are allocated at a rate of 30 percent from each band, and then there is 10 percent discretion, says Ní Dhálaigh. The discretion might be used for a family in a situation of severe domestic violence, she says. “There is always an exceptional case.”

Those in Band 1 can expect to be housed in around three or four years, she says, while a person with general needs might wait 15 years.

But the current system is flawed because it discriminates against young people in general, she says. “I’m really, really concerned that young people are being discriminated against,” she says.

The majority of people presenting as homeless are young, she says. They will have to wait a very long time on the ordinary housing list, as they have no “time on the list”.

As a result, some of them are being forced into homelessness. “It is one of the biggest shames as a council that we face,” she says.

Ní Dhálaigh wants the system to be changed so that there is an allocation made specifically to young people, she says.

Out of Care

Now Delaney is 23, and two years out of care. He is registered for housing with Dublin City Council, but he doesn’t know where he is on the list for social housing, and has never had an offer of a home from the local authority, he says.

Costello thinks that cases such as Delaney’s should be treated differently to the way they are now.

“Children leaving care are not just normal homeless people,” says Costello, who is a social worker as well as a councillor. “They are people whose parents are the state.”

Most young people in care are in foster homes, and if they are in education this placement can be extended until they are 23.

Those young people who are in residential units are generally the ones with the most complex needs, Costello says, and are especially vulnerable.

This may well mean that the state has already failed them in some way, says Costello. Perhaps by failing to intervene sooner, or by failing to provide adequate support and therapy while they were in care.

“The state has failed these people multiple times already before they get to that place of being 18,” he says. Even before, that is, they are discharged into homelessness.

“If you look at most 18- to 26-year-olds that are homeless and on the streets ( … ) most of them have come through HSE care,” says Delaney. “Because you are vulnerable.”

Costello is currently trying to find out exactly how many of the homeless young people in Dublin have come through the care system.

The Department of Children and Youth Affairs did not respond to questions about young people being discharged from care into homelessness.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that “Tusla or the HSE prepare plans for all young persons leaving care and those who need it are recommended for social housing.”

Based on that recommendation, the “young person will automatically join the housing list as a priority case on his or her 18th birthday,” she said.

Young people leaving care have the same priority as homeless people, and Tusla and the HSE also work with a number of approved housing bodies to source accommodation for young people leaving care, she says.

Delaney says he wasn’t placed on the list for social housing until he got linked in with the Peter McVerry Trust at age 21. He remembers the staff there registering him.

Perhaps, his social workers made a mistake, he says. “They made loads of mistakes and they know that themselves,” he says. He had 15 different social workers.

Costello isn’t sure if reforming the scheme of lettings is the best way to cope with the pronounced need for housing for young people leaving care. “What I’d like to see is the government ponying up the dosh and providing a proper aftercare system,” he says.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has supplied a house to Aisling Aftercare, Costello says, and he requested that Dublin City Council do the same but they refused.

“In some ways it is understandable,” says Costello. “Their attitude is that their housing supply is so limited, that if they start carving it up for special interests you will be left with nothing.”

Other Priorities

The state may have a special responsibility to young people leaving care, but there are also others with exceptional levels of need.

“In a lot of cases people can’t understand why no one sees them as a priority,” says Ní Dhálaigh.

She is in contact with an extended family, made up of four families, made up of 16 people. All are living in a single two-bedroom apartment in the Oliver Bond social-housing apartments, she says.

Or, there are those who are living with domestic violence, who are high priority and when somebody’s life is proven to be in danger they can be moved immediately, says Ní Dhálaigh.

But the burden of proof is very high, she says. “In a lot of cases we are forcing them back to live with their abuser.”

Other domestic-violence survivors will be entitled to be on Band 1 due to exceptional social needs, but that could still mean several years waiting to be rehoused.

Some advocates for survivors of domestic violence say that the social-housing list should be based entirely on need, says Costello.

Disabled people are another group of grave concern, says Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan. The subcommittee has looked at cases where people can’t be discharged from hospital or nursing homes until appropriate accommodation is provided or their homes are adapted, somehow.

Then, there’s separated fathers, who have access to their children, but are only entitled to a bedsit, says Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne. They cannot have their children to stay, he says.

Boylan says that there is no way the council could extend larger homes to such fathers, thereby accommodating some children twice, while others have no home. “You just couldn’t do that,” she says.

Only a large-scale project of public-housing building can solve these issues, says Andrew Keegan of People Before Profit. Tweaking the scheme of lettings won’t make much difference when there are so few homes.

Says Costello: “The system needs to be consistent, but the main problem is the lack of houses.”

The subcommittee set up to look at whether the system could be fairer will is expected to issue a report in February.

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a freelance journalist. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

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