Two councillors tabled emergency motions at Monday’s monthly meeting of Dublin city councillors, calling on the council to intervene in a mass eviction of 35 households living in Tathony House, an apartment block in Kilmainham.
Group leaders agreed that the issue would be discussed as part of the meeting and so they were not voted on as emergency motions, according to the Lord Mayor Green Party Councillor Caroline Conroy.
Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine asked the council to buy the homes to “prevent this disaster of homelessness visiting these families and the children there”.
She said councils had done similar before.
Cork City Council purchased apartments in Leeside and kept families in their homes, she said. Dublin City Council housing bought a complex in Temple Bar with tenants in situ, in 1999, she said.
“We need to be bold,” said Devine. “We need to reach out and allow these people to stay in situ.”
People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin said the council could buy the homes using existing funding schemes to prevent the mass eviction. “I would really like the management to consider the option of taking over the building.”
Not all the tenants are social tenants, but the cost-rental model could also be used, she said. “I do think we are going to have to look at more inventive ways of dealing with the housing crisis.”
There is no private housing or public housing available, nor is there space in emergency accommodation at the moment, said de Nortúin.
The council housing manager, Coilín O’Reilly, said he couldn’t imagine the stress and worry for the residents of Tathony House.
“I have absolutely immense sympathy for the people,” he said. “At the same time I also have to work within a legal framework.”
He doesn’t have a scheme available to buy the homes, he said.
None of those living there are social tenants through the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) or Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), and while three households have applied for social housing most have not, he said.
“If everybody was a social housing tenant, tenant in situ would be the simplest thing in the world here,” he said.
That is the existing scheme whereby the council can buy the private-rented home of someone on the council list in order to prevent homelessness.
But that scheme isn’t an option, and even under that scheme the owner has to decide to sell to the council and the council must be satisfied that the property is up to scratch, said O’Reilly.
“The cost-rental schemes as they currently work apply to new-build properties,” he said, and the Department of Housing has to approve those schemes.
“There is also an element of fairness. There are other people out there who are looking for cost rental,” he says. There is also a maximum income for cost-rental so some tenants might not qualify.
Cork City Council did buy an apartment complex, he said, but in that case the private tenants were still evicted and the homes were filled with social tenants, said O’Reilly.
The tenants need to engage with the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) and go through that process, he said.
In most circumstances mass evictions of more than 10 households at a time are not permitted, under a clause known as the “Tyrrelstown amendment”.
But a landlord can argue that they will get 20 percent more for selling the properties vacant and that applying the restriction would cause “undue hardship” to them. RTB adjudicators can assess that claim.
For those who are entitled to social housing they may be able to get Homeless HAP, said O’Reilly. (Although even with that housing subsidy, people have been finding it extremely difficult to find housing in the city.)
The council will discuss the issues with the tenants, the Department of Housing and approved housing bodies, to explore solutions, O’Reilly said. “The options here are very limited within the framework.”