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To keep social tenants from ending up homeless when their landlords were selling up, Dublin City Council kicked off a scheme in 2018 to buy those homes and let the tenants stay.
This scheme was dubbed “tenant in situ”. Other councils started their own versions, using their budgets for buying housing to keep tenants on rent-subsidy schemes in their homes, but tweaking the rules.
Until recently, Dublin City Council only bought homes for tenants who had been on the social housing list for more than five years.
It also wouldn’t buy a home that had too many or too few bedrooms for the household.
And tenants living in one council area in Dublin, but on a different council’s housing list, couldn’t tap into the scheme.
Now, many of those restrictions are being relaxed or lifted.
Councils will cooperate across local-authority boundaries, Dublin City Council official Aisling Browne said last week at a meeting of the council’s housing committee.
Dublin City Council will show flexibility around the number of bedrooms too and the time on the list, she said.
“It’s a case-by-case basis and yes we do apply flexibility if somebody is willing to stay in a property where they are overcrowded or short a bedroom we will consider that,” she said.
When the government announced it was lifting the eviction ban, opposition TDs repeatedly asked where tenants with notices to quit should go. The tenant-in-situ scheme was pitched as a major part of the solution.
Browne said the council hoped to buy around 250 homes under the scheme this year.
That appears to be shy of the figure put forward by the Minister for Housing Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien.
The Department of Housing has allocated funding to Dublin City Council to buy 400 homes in 2023, shows a department circular.
While some of those may be acquisitions in other circumstances, the majority of all acquisitions this year are supposed to be through the tenant-in-situ scheme, according to O’Brien in the Dail in March.
He said his department has set up an “acquisition delivery team” to “ensure each Local Authority meets its tenant-in-situ purchase targets”.
Scrapped, Resumed, Revamped
Under the tenant-in-situ scheme, councils check that the homes are structurally sound and not in breach of planning.
Then, if the household facing homelessness meets the criteria and doesn’t have rent arrears and the property is under certain price caps, the council can buy it.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said last year that the price guidelines for the council for a two-bed apartment in Dublin city were in the range of between €221,200 and €478,900, with an average or “benchmark” of €350,050.
But early in 2022, Minister for Housing Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien told councils to restrict their purchases of privately owned homes to 200 homes nationwide for the year, and to focus on one-bedroom homes and homes for people with special needs and disabilities.
In January 2022, Dublin City Council housing manager Cóilín O’Reilly said that the tenant-in-situ scheme had been scrapped because councils were moving away from purchasing existing homes, so as not to compete with homeowners.
The council had asked that the Department of Housing to let them keep buying homes under the scheme but that was refused, said O’Reilly.
Councillors said that they knew families facing homelessness who could have qualified for the scheme and the Lord Mayor agreed to write to the Minister and ask him to allow tenant-in-situ purchases to resume.
In April 2022, the Department of Housing did a U-turn and said that councils should, once again, buy homes with tenants in situ to prevent homelessness.
In March 2023, the department issued a circular saying that councils should buy 1,500 homes nationwide this year, with 1,300 of these directed to social tenants facing eviction because of a property sale.
The department allocated Dublin City Council funding to buy 400 homes but said that that figure is not a strict target for the year as such.
“In order to provide a greater focus on acquisitions in areas of greatest need and to support planning by local authorities, each local authority is being provided with an initial allocation for the number of acquisitions that can be funded,” says the circular.
The government had set itself a target of 200 acquisitions nationwide for 2022. It ended up buying 960, show figures released by the department earlier this week.
Relaxing the Rules
In March, O’Reilly, the council’s housing manager, told the Oireachtas Joint Housing Committee that Dublin City Council would cut the length of time households needed to be on the social-housing waiting list to qualify for the tenant-in-situ scheme from five to two years.
At the council meeting last week, Browne said that the requirement now is simply that the household is eligible for social housing.
If a tenant has a valid notice to quit, is at risk of homelessness and has no HAP rent arrears or history of anti-social behaviour, the council will consider buying the home, said Browne.
The property should be suitable for the needs of the household too, says the update to councillors. But the council can apply discretion.
Browne said that means that the council probably wouldn’t buy a large house for a single person, but if a tenant asked the council to buy their two-bedroom home, it would consider it even if they are entitled to a three-bedroom.
Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan asked what happens if a tenant is on the Dublin City Council housing list but living in another local authority area. Fingal County Council, say.
Browne said that councils have agreed to cooperate so in that case, Fingal County Council would buy the home, as it is in its area and the person would become a Fingal County Council tenant.
Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan asked how long it takes and how many homes the council hopes to buy this year.
Browne said that it takes the council around six months to buy a property and the council is prioritising tenant-in-situ purchases.
The council has appointed extra staff to work on tenant-in-situ purchases and the valuer’s office is also prioritising them, said Browne.
So far, the council has bought 12 homes this year under tenant-in-situ, she said. “Eighty-one are at sale agreed, so obviously we would hope to close them in the next couple of months.”
This year, the council hopes to buy between 200 and 250 homes, she said. “We could be well into the 250, hopefully. We may need to engage another solicitors’ firm to get the conveyancing moving.”
“But I’d say we would be well over the 200 anyway,” she said.
The Cost-Rental Version
For those tenants that are at risk of homelessness but are over the income threshold for social housing, there is a new scheme administered by the Housing Agency, called the cost-rental tenant in situ.
Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland, asked what definition of homelessness is being used for that assessment.
If a tenant has nowhere else they can reasonably live then they are at risk of homelessness, said Browne.
If the tenant is unable to purchase the home themselves, the Housing Agency could potentially buy it, she said. And the tenant would get to stay on, paying rent.
The Housing Agency already buys properties for smaller councils if they don’t have their own specialist staff such as valuers, she said.
The agency is going to employ an agent to manage the homes at first and they may later be bought by a housing charity, said Browne.
The Housing Agency didn’t respond in time for publication to queries sent Thursday, about the detailed criteria for the new cost-rental tenant-in-situ scheme, how the rents will be set, or what is the maximum amount it can spend on a home.
Councillors asked Browne about apartment complexes with a mix of tenants where some are entitled to social housing and others are above the social housing threshold but still at risk of homelessness.
Browne said that the council is working with the Department of Housing to explore those situations and possibly in the future an approved housing body could buy those developments, renting them out as mixed social and cost rental.
Geoghegan asked how often a tenant who is above the social-housing income threshold becomes homeless.
Browne said it wasn’t common in the past but that is likely to change. “At the moment on Daft, I would say regardless of your income you would struggle to find private-rented accommodation.