After Her Father Died, the Council’s Cut to Woman’s Housing Subsidy Is Forcing Her From Their Home

In March last year, Kenneth Graham was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Shortly after, his daughter April Mooney gave up full-time work as an eyelash technician to care for him.

Graham passed away at home in March 2022.

“The end was so hard,” says Mooney. The hospice didn’t send any medical staff to help her on the night he died, she says. It was just her and her boyfriend Jack Harvey.

Then in the days after her dad’s death, she was shaken again, she says, when staff in the homeless HAP section of Dublin City Council told her that she would also lose her home.

The council told her that since her father passed away she is no longer entitled to the family rate of the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), the subsidy she relied on to help cover the rent.

Mooney can’t find any other apartment in her price range, she says.

“The last thing I want to do is leave here knowing this was the last place I’ll ever be with my dad,” says Mooney.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to questions sent Friday about whether this is how the scheme is supposed to operate.

It also didn’t respond to queries as to what happens to the tenancies and HAP rates granted to other kinds of households as they change, such as single-parent households after their children leave home.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “It is the responsibility of the local authority, while taking a compassionate approach, to make a decision in each individual case.”

At Santry Place

Mooney, now 31, moved in with her dad when she was 16, she says.

In 2018, the landlord decided to sell the apartment they were living in, she says. The family were homeless for three months. For part of that, they slept in their car.

Eventually though, they got approved for the Homeless HAP rental subsidy and got a place in Balbriggan, says Mooney.

But the same thing happened. After a couple of years, that landlord sold up.

Mooney managed to find the modern, spacious two-bedroom apartment where she now lives, in a giant complex called Santry Place on Swords Road.

She felt relieved, she says, because it’s a corporate landlord, so she thought it would be a long-term rental. “I thought this was the end of the anxiety of worrying where we would live.”

Mooney says she loves the area. Her cousin lives in the building and she has friends nearby.

She couldn’t believe it, she says, when council staff wrote to her to say she would have to leave because her father passed away.

They gave her three months’ notice. “On compassionate grounds in order to give you sufficient time to find affordable accommodation,” an email says.

That isn’t much time in the current housing crisis, she says. “That is not compassionate in the least. They weren’t doing me any favours.”

Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly says he advocated to get her that much time and that some other people have been given even less notice by the council after their family circumstances changed.

“We made representations to the council and got her the three-month stay,” he says. “Some people wouldn’t get that.”

“You get evicted for doing nothing,” says Mooney, shaking her head. “I’d understand if I was wrecking the place or if there was drugs or something like that.”

Jack Harvey, her boyfriend, is sat near her on the comfy grey sofa in the bright living room of Mooney’s flat. “They are basically punishing her for her dad dying,” he says.

The full rent on the apartment is €2,070. Mooney was worried about getting into debt if the council stopped paying the rent, she says. She knew she needed a good reference from the landlord to find another flat.

She handed in her notice. Her tenancy ends on 19 June.

Mooney has started to pack up and move out her belongings, storing stuff with friends and in Harvey’s mother’s attic.

She can’t move in with Harvey there because the house is already overcrowded, she says.

Council staff advised her to go into homeless accommodation, she says, but that scares her. She could stay with a relative short-term, she says, but it’s not a stable situation.

Dealing with HAP issues aggravated the stress she felt, even as her father was dying, she says.

“You have no clue of the stress you are putting people under while they have their own stuff going on,” she says, as she tries to hold back the tears.

Mooney says she has tried everything to keep her home. She contacted Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe, Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis and independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly, she says.

She also tried going to Threshold, the Residential Tenancies Board and a solicitor, she says. But no one could help her.

Ellis, the Sinn Féin TD, says Mooney’s case highlights a flaw in the HAP system, which will continue to affect other people.

“It’s very serious,” he says. “Unfortunately it is a failure of the government using HAP and our reliance on HAP.”

Says Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe: “it’s the problem with us using HAP as a longer-term tool, when it should only be a shorter-term tool.”

Mooney says she knew she could be evicted by a private landlord while claiming HAP, but she didn’t expect to be effectively evicted by the council.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, you are not safe,” she says. “There is no security with HAP.”

Trying to Find a Solution

“Hap is a form of social housing support,” says the HAP website.

But it is not social housing, says Mooney. In a real council house, she would inherit the tenancy when her parent passed away.

What happens if a mother with children living at home passes away, says Mooney. “They will be thrown out the same way I am. Out on the street.”

There are no apartments to rent within the HAP limits in Dublin, she says.

HAP is administered by the council. Tenants pay rent to the council and the council then pays rent to the landlord.

If the rent is more than the amount the household is approved for under HAP, the tenant can pay some extra rent to the landlord also but that is capped.

Alone, Mooney was entitled to €990 on Homeless HAP. If she pays extra rent herself, she could be allowed to “top-up” by around €200, she says.

But it’s really difficult to find places for under €1,200, she says.

One-bedroom apartments in the complex where she lives in Santry Place cost around €1,900 a month, she says.

She asked the council if her boyfriend could move in, she says. Together the couple is within the threshold for social housing.

The total rent would be around half of Harvey’s salary, but he says he would pay it. “I’d do it for her emotional stability,” he says. “I’d pay whatever.”

But the council told Mooney that they couldn’t do that because the rent wouldn’t be affordable, she says. “Even if we went together as a couple we would have to find somewhere else.”

Mooney says she feels like she tried to find solutions to keep her home but that the council wasn’t interested in doing that. “They have themselves covered on each angle. They have an answer for everything.”

The council has not offered her any assistance to find a new home, she says. “It’s like they want you to be homeless.”

The system is broken, says Mooney. “They make you homeless in order to make you un-homeless again.”

On top of that, she doesn’t want to leave this place where her dad died. “This is literally the last place he will ever be,” she says, looking around the flat, her face reddening and tears welling up behind her glasses.

Harvey works long hours as a healthcare assistant, including night shifts, but still, his salary isn’t enough to make rent. Some of his colleagues are living in homeless accommodation, he says.

“I have it in my head that I want to get a mortgage, but I don’t think realistically that anyone our age will ever get one,” he says.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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