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Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan says it is inevitable that some homeless families, accommodated under the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme will become homeless again.
A family attended his clinic last Thursday who had been homeless living in hotels until they found a home in Ballyfermot that they could rent with help from the scheme. But now that landlord says he’s selling the property, and they face losing their roof again.
“I had suspected it was going to happen,” says Doolan, who chairs the council’s housing committee. “Because there is such a huge dependency on HAP, which is basically just the private rental sector.”
People who are renting with help from the HAP scheme are considered by the government to be “housed”. But their tenancies are no more secure than any other in the private rented sector, says Aideen Hayden, chair of the housing charity Threshold.
There are four main types of housing subsidies at the moment. (Click here to reveal a few paragraphs explaining what the differences are, if you want.)
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.
Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland says she thought HAP would work a lot like the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), in that if the landlord pulls out, the council would find the tenant a new home. But it doesn’t.
Hayden says that RAS offered more protection, as the lease agreements were longer and the local authority was more involved. But that scheme is set to be phased out by 2021, in favour of HAP which is expanding. (There were 17,916 new HAP tenancies in 2017, according to the Department of Housing.)
A spokesperson for the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) said she didn’t have a figure to hand for how many people on Homeless HAP have become homeless again, but said she would look into the issue.
At the Fingal County Council meeting on Tuesday, Solidarity Councillor Matthew Waine also said he is working with families “who have been through HAP and are now losing their tenancies”.
The Homeless HAP scheme was introduced two years ago following a pilot in 2015, and according to the DRHE, as of November 2017 it was helping to pay for accommodation for 2,006 households in the Dublin region.
“It was almost inevitable that once it was up and running a while, that some families will become casualties of the private rental sector again,” says Doolan.
People who have been homeless before are more vulnerable, and Homeless HAP doesn’t stop that cycle of disadvantage, he says. “The shocking thing is that they are not afforded any extra legal protection.”
If the market rent goes up, some landlords may wish to evict those on state schemes, Doolan says. A landlord who wants to increase the rent beyond the 4 percent currently allowed by law can try a workaround, and find a legal reason to evict the tenant.
These include saying they are selling, saying a family member is moving in, or saying that they are refurbishing the property.
The landlord can’t legally re-let the property for more money after the eviction, but “there is no follow up on that”, says Doolan. “The Gardaí or the city council are not going to sit outside his front door to make sure he abides by the law.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that Homeless HAP is “an essential component” of their homelessness prevention and supports, helping families move from emergency accommodation into rented homes.
Support is provided to prevent households from entering emergency accommodation and homeless services, he says.
Homeless people can look for accommodation themselves, and get help from the Homeless Placefinder Service, which works with property owners and supports homeless people and those at risk of homelessness, to find tenancies, says the spokesperson.
He didn’t directly address the question of whether HAP tenancies are less secure than RAS tenancies.
A key difference between the two schemes is that HAP tenants find their own properties in their areas of choice, while RAS tenancies are sometimes assigned by the local authority.
Aideen Hayden of Threshold says she hasn’t come across any other cases, beyond that raised by Doolan, where families on Homeless HAP were being made homeless again.
“The Homeless HAP terms are quite generous and landlords seem willing to accept tenants under its terms,” she says. (Those on Homeless HAP can secure larger rent payments than claimants on other rent subsidy schemes.)
The take-up on HAP is good, says Hayden, but there are major issues with security of tenure in the private rental sector in general.
“HAP tenancies are simply that, just tenancies in the private rental sector … they are exactly like any other private rental tenancies,” she says. So the ways in which some landlords are avoiding the security-of-tenure provisions in private tenancies apply to HAP tenants too.
“I would argue personally that there needs to be a role for the local authority,” Hayden said.
Under RAS, the landlord and the local authority split responsibility for the maintenance and management of a home.
Hayden suggests that if the local authority were willing to take full responsibility under, say, a four- or five-year lease, they might be able to get more properties: “A lot of people who might have properties available don’t want to be landlords.”
Such a scheme could help to address issues around security of tenure, and importantly bring more properties back into use. “It’s all about supply,” she says.