Finn Irwin is standing at the back of a large red-brick property on the Old Cabra Road, a place he has called home for 10 years.
“It lashed rain all night last night,” says Irwin, a mature student at Trinity College Dublin. “I was just thinking, the poor homeless, that could be me soon.”
His flat inside is to be sold, along with others in the building. Irwin is fighting that at the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), arguing that it violates a rule against mass evictions.
But he’s also struggled to come up with a back-up plan to make sure he won’t end up homeless. Mainly because one of the safety nets for those on the cusp of homelessness – a higher rate of rent subsidy from the council – has gone, he says.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry says council officials have told him the same thing. That they’ll no longer give a higher rate of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), known as Homeless HAP, to people who’ve been given notices to quit, he says.
But a spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that the Homeless HAP payment is still available to those who are at an imminent risk of homelessness or already in homeless accommodation.
Told to Leave
Irwin pays €520 a month for his Cabra flat, he says.
It means the student – who suffers from clinical depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder – can afford it on his disability and rent allowance.
The landlord, Tom Daly, never raised his rent and they had a great relationship, he says. Daly passed away earlier this year.
“He was more like a father to me than my own father ever was, so I was devastated to learn of his ill health,” Irwin says.
In March, the landlord’s brother, who Irwin says is the executor of the will, served him with a notice to quit. The property is currently listed for sale at auction in November.
Irwin wants to know what will happen to him, and his dispute, if someone else buys the property. Gavin Elliott, legal advisor with Threshold, says that if the new landlord wants the tenants out, he would likely have to issue new notices of termination to them.
Because of the pause in evictions earlier this year, Irwin has until April next year before his notice is up.
Already, he fears homelessness.
He can’t share a room in homeless hostels because of his mental health, he says. There’s Covid-19 to worry about too.
He’s already asked Inner City Helping Homeless if they provide tents, he says. He’s reached out to Peter McVerry Trust. He’s linked in with Simon Community too, after a referral by Dublin City Council, he says.
Irwin has been on the Dublin City Council housing list for 17 years. Council staff pointed him to HAP. But that tops out at €660 for a single person. Obviously, he can’t find an apartment in Dublin for that, he says.
Councils have some discretion to grant 20 percent more than that. They can give up to 50 percent more than the limit if somebody is homeless or at immediate risk of homelessness, said a spokesperson for the Department of Housing in April.
Given that, the department is “satisfied that the HAP scheme is operating effectively”, they said.
But Dublin City Council no longer gives a higher HAP rate to households at risk of homelessness, Irwin says he was told by staff.
He contacted the council the day he got the notice and said he was going to be homeless in a couple of months, he says. “They said that the risk of becoming homeless is not the same as actually being homeless.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that single people in Dublin are often granted 20 percent discretion, bringing the payment up to €792 for those who manage to secure their own apartment.
Many households who receive a notice of termination will move to another property soon afterwards, says the spokesperson. But if a person is still unable to find a home, once they are in the last month of their notice period, they can avail of the higher rate of €990, she says.
Perry, the independent councillor, says he queried whether people need to present as homeless before receiving a higher rent subsidy with the council, and it “seemed determined that they wouldn’t give homeless HAP unless people were actually in emergency accommodation”, he says.
Landlords are only accepting that higher Homeless HAP now and that this is driving up rents, says Perry. So to try to dampen rents, the council is tightening up.
“I can understand what the council is trying to do, but the difficulty is you have real families and real people caught in between,” says Perry.
It means more single people are becoming homeless in the city, he says. “We were prioritising the prevention of homelessness. Clearly, that is not the priority now.”