Experts call for rent controls and use of vacant housing stock to ease housing crisis

Rent controls and use of vacant housing stock — including refitted hotels — should be considered to ease the looming homelessness crisis, experts have claimed.

A conference hosted by Barnardos yesterday heard that “a new layer” of families are now facing the threat of homelessness because of a shortage of suitable housing stock, especially in large urban areas, married to rising rental rates.

The additional problem of families in the throes of house repossession has added to a sense of crisis, with Barnardos claiming children in affected families were now living in emergency accommodation, sometimes sharing facilities with strangers and occasionally witnessing violent behaviour.

The charity also said that rent allowance was insufficient to cover private rents, pushing families into debt and ultimately leading to risk of homelessness.

Emma Jane Nulty, Barnardos project leader, said that in the past two years, 25% of the families she has worked with have either experienced homelessness or are doing so at the moment. She also said that some families have been living in emergency or B&B accommodation for more than a year.

Ms Nulty’s Barnardos’ colleague, Francis Chance, said he was aware of one case where four families are sharing one local authority house, and of a hotel in Dublin in which six families are living.

The conference heard that such arrangements were “unsustainable,” as families in hotels have no cooking or washing facilities and no space for children to play or do homework.

However, Mr Chance said there were two vacant hotels in west Dublin which could be converted into adequate living spaces for homeless families as long as support services were also provided.

He said short-term solutions could include using Nama properties, investigating rent caps or rent controls, and boosting housing stock.

Simon Brooke, head of policy at Cluid Housing Association, said the “trigger point” had been the rising rental prices coupled with a shortage of housing stock. He said there were a number of possible actions that could help alleviate the crisis but warned: “There is no silver bullet.”

Among the solutions he offered were limited rent controls that would allow for staggered increases over time, more resources for the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) and increased social housing stock, as well as utilising vacant Nama properties, where appropriate.

Rents have risen by an average of 9% since 2013, with homeless organisations claiming there has been a huge increase in rough sleeping.

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