In March, Stacey Reece and her family were told they had to leave their home. The deadline was 20 July, she says.
They searched for a new place for six months with no luck, says Reece, who lives in Tallaght.
Despite having an eviction notice, she was only eligible for the standard Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), and not the higher Homeless HAP, she says.
That meant her family got €1,400 a month in support from regular HAP – but most homes she saw listed were going for €2,000 or more a month, she says. “You’re limiting yourself a lot more than when you don’t have the Homeless HAP.”
Different councils in the Dublin area have different rules for when households can get Homeless HAP – and some councillors are pressing for them to be loosened.
It doesn’t leave enough time for families to find homes, and normal HAP rates are way too low to be useful anyway, they say.
That throws up concerns, though, about Homeless HAP pushing rents up across the board and making it obsolete.
People should be given homeless HAP when they are served with a valid notice to quit, “failing rent controls and government intervention”, says Solidarity Councillor Kieran Mahon in South Dublin.
“Because, in reality, the normal HAP levels are being outstripped by market rents,” says Mahon.
In South Dublin County Council, families are eligible for Homeless HAP at six weeks before their eviction date. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, it’s eight weeks, a spokesperson said.
In Fingal County Council, it’s eight weeks too, said a spokesperson. But “this may vary depending on the circumstances of an individual family”.
Dublin City Council’s rule is tighter still. Families can get Homeless HAP up to 28 days before an eviction date, but not any earlier than that.
Dublin City Council’s 28-day limit is “causing people significant stress”, says Green Party Councillor Patrick Costello.
He’s hearing from a growing number of families who say they need Homeless HAP sooner than 28 days before eviction, he says.
Four weeks is “not enough time to secure accommodation”, says Costello, who’s planning to raise the issue at the council’s housing committee.
Standard HAP, he says, hasn’t kept up with rising rents. “It’s harder and harder to get a place,” he says. Being on Homeless HAP “certainly helps”.
Costello wants people to be able to get Homeless HAP, with its higher rates, six weeks before they are evicted, he says.
Reece says she and her family received Homeless HAP in early July – just 11 days before the first official eviction date.
This was because a caseworker from Focus Ireland was trying to dispute the validity of the eviction notice leading up to the date, she says.
They’ve been working with housing activist Patrick Nelis to dispute their eviction too, she says, and got an extra two months in the home.
Tuesday was the last day they could stay. But they have nowhere else to go, says Reece.
They are currently “overholding” – staying in the house past their eviction date.
Families facing eviction should “definitely, definitely” get Homeless HAP as soon as they get their notice to quit, she says.
“I’m not saying we would have found somewhere,” she says. “But we would have had a better chance.”
A spokesperson for Dublin Region Homeless Executive, which operates the Homeless HAP scheme in the Dublin City Council area, said it isn’t in favour of making it available further in advance of evictions.
Increasing the time would “set aside the original purpose of the scheme”, they said.
Homeless HAP was designed for families exiting emergency accommodation, a spokesperson said. Those in hotels, B&Bs, and family hubs, for example.
Having them compete with those facing eviction would “diminish” the likelihood for them of a rapid exit from emergency accommodation, they said.
Standard HAP and Homeless HAP limits vary depending on the size of a family. They also differ across councils.
In Dublin City Council, the limit for standard HAP is €1,300 for a family four, but the local authority has the discretion to go above that by 20 percent.
For Homeless HAP, available only in the Dublin region, there’s discretion of 50 per cent. It can go up to €1,950 for a family.
Costello says he knows there are concerns that if Homeless HAP is “given out too easily”, it might replace standard HAP and the “market will get too far ahead of [standard] HAP”.
Is that already happening? Council figures show that – not counting the people transferring from rent supplement to HAP – the council set up more tenancies for people on Homeless HAP than on standard HAP last year.
Its “target” in 2018 for Homeless HAP was 585, but it created more than twice that, at 1,186. That’s not counting the 900 tenancies that the city council created in other Dublin local authorities too.
For standard HAP, meanwhile, its 2018 target was 2,040, yet it created half that number, at 1,023.
Its “targets” going forward continue to show more Homeless HAP tenancies than standard tenancies.
Has Homeless HAP has already made standard HAP useless – has it become the base rate, or close to?
Mahon, the Solidarity Councillor, says it is. “At the minute, the maximum HAP payment becomes the minimum [for the market] because landlords know they can get Homeless HAP, preventative HAP.”
Wayne Stanley, the head of advocacy at Simon Communities, says a lack of affordable accommodation is the most pressing issue.
Simon Communities’ recent “Locked Out of the Market” study found that 92 percent of 482 properties available to rent over three days in 11 areas were above rent supplement or normal HAP limits.
“The Homeless HAP has been, in the context of helping people to move on and preventing homelessness, a success,” Stanley says.
“The issue is actually that the housing system isn’t providing affordable accommodation that is needed for it to be truly effective,” he says.