On a recent Friday morning, after finishing up a long night shift in a nursing home in Co. Meath, Perseverance Mpofu, says she has given up hope on renting a home in Dublin city.
Originally from Bulawayo, a city in Zimbabwe, Mpofu is a single mother, who currently lives in the Mosney direct-provision centre with her four children.
But Mpofu is no longer an asylum seeker.
Last October, the International Protection Office – part of the Department of Justice – approved her asylum application after almost three years.
Shortly after receiving her refugee status, Mpofu applied to avail ofHousing Assistance Supplement (HAP) to rent a home and leave the direct-provision system.
HAP is a government subsidy provided to eligible applicants by local authorities. It is set to supplant long-term rent supplements and supports low-income families in their housing needs.
Through the scheme, the local authority pays the landlords directly. In return, tenants pay a weekly HAP rent contribution to the council calculated based on their income and ability to pay.
Mpofu says she wants to move to Dublin because her oldest son plans to study in the city.
This year, he received an offer from Technological University Dublin to study sports management, at their Tallaght campus.
Her search for a home, however, has yielded no results. Mpofu, who sports a close-crop haircut and is wearing a short-sleeved pink t-shirt, buries her face in her hands.
“As soon as you say ‘I’m on HAP and I live in direct provision’ it automatically changes the way he or she is talking to you, you can feel them thinking ‘ah I just wasted my time with them’,” she says.
Some ex-asylum seekers are finding it difficult to secure a room to rent in Dublin, after leaving direct provision. They say, once they mention HAP or their former accommodation, landlords and letting agencies stop replying to their requests for viewings. Although it is illegal to discriminate, some advocates say that this practice is well-known.
Searching for a Home
Under the Equal Status Acts 2000-2015, it is illegal to discriminate in providing accommodation services to people based on rent subsidy.
But this hasn’t stopped some landlords refusing to take government-subsidised payments.
In 2018, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) instructed a landlord to compensate a family for refusing their rent allowance payment. The discrimination, a WRC officer said, was “at the more serious end of the scale”.
Last year, another landlord was hit with a €12,000 fine for refusing to accept the government housing voucher from a Latvian woman.
Mpofu says sometimes a property viewing is only possible in the evenings, so she has to find a lift to Dublin city and back. In those cases, it takes her longer to wrap her head around the rejection.
Mpofu becomes visibly upset, taking a few minutes to explain that she has always been a tidy woman, cleaning her unit in the direct-provision centre as if it was her permanent home.
“Some [letting agents] would tell you the landlord doesn’t accept the number of your children. They just want one child or two.”
Meanwhile, in Bridgewater House direct-provision centre, Co. Tipperary, Rahim Muhammad, a father of four from Afghanistan, tells a similar tale.
Muhammad is an ex-asylum seeker and is also on HAP. He has a job offer to work as a translator in Dublin that he plans to accept. Muhammad says he has applied to live in over 177 homes in the city since January.
Only last week, he received a positive response, making him cautiously optimistic that he can move to the city in October.
Usually, he says, his application would get a deadly silence after he mentions HAP, the number of his children and his current residency in a direct-provision centre.
In one email thread, in which Muhammad has sent several relevant documents to a housing agency in the city, the Afghan man demands to know the reason for refusal.
“Unfortunately, the landlord does not give us an explanation why I wish you all the best and stay safe,” the housing agent writes back.
“You really do not know what to do so you ask different people like friends, different charities like Focus Ireland, Irish Refugee Council, Crosscare, Peter McVerry Trust,” Muhammad says.
“But the result is the same.”
Trapped in the System
According to Oonagh Buckley, deputy secretary-general at the Department of Justice, nearly a thousand people whose applications for international protection have been approved still live in the country’s direct provision centres.
CEO of the Irish Refugee Council Nick Henderson says scouting a home on HAP while living in a direct provision centre is usually a recipe for refusal.
“Discrimination against people on HAP is well-recorded but it is particularly acute for someone trying to leave direct provision,” he says.
A spokesperson for housing charity Threshold also says that housing discrimination is often linked, directly or indirectly, to HAP, race or religion.
Henderson says asylum seekers also struggle with providing a reference or someone who would vouch for them to landlords as lengthy stays in direct provision centres often means lack of networking opportunities, language skills and integration.
“Sometimes the landlord asks for a reference, I don’t have that,” Mpofu says.
In their June 2016 report, Transition from Direct Provision to Life in the Community, the agency recorded the obstacles in the way of former asylum seekers’ attempts in gaining acceptance in society with poor language skills and scant knowledge of the Irish culture.
“Upon transition, mental health problems can increase in the face of isolation, intransigent social policies and structures,” the report states.
Henderson says that the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the social curbs introduced to slow its spread has adversely impacted the real estate market, prompting landlords and agents to be more accepting of tenants on rent subsidy schemes.
He says his organisation has helped over 58 asylum seekers to secure a home and leave the direct-provision system during this time.
“However, it remains very difficult, people who are homeless and outside of direct provision have sometimes struggled to access homeless accommodation,” Henderson says.
According to the latest homelessness figures released by the Department of Housing,4164 homeless adults lived in Dublin this past May. The figure includes 893 families.
Henderson says providing weekly allowances available to people living in direct provision for those asylum seekers who choose to live outside the system while waiting on a decision on their application is also needed to prevent them from becoming homeless.
This past December, the government was considering extending a housing initiative through which homeowners are incentivised to rent their spare rooms to former asylum seekers.
Under the rent-a-room scheme, landlords renting out their rooms to private tenants will be exempt from rental income tax.
Under the scheme, 8,000 people found a roof over their heads in 2017, according to the Irish Times.
Extending the initiative to include asylum seekers was mentioned in a submission for Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe from the Department of Public Expenditure, according to a government memo released through a freedom of information (FOI) request filed by journalist Ken Foxe.
The plan was described as a way to alleviate the challenges that asylum seekers who have received a permission to stay in the country often face when attempting to rent a place to live.
Meanwhile, Mpofu says she is hoping to at least find a home in Dundalk to make the journey to Tallaght a little easier on her son.
“Sometimes they tell you that the house you’d applied for is taken, but you’d still see the same house on Daft for three months, four months. You’re not even given the benefit of viewing the house.”