HAP tenancies at risk amid spiralling rents and living costs, Focus Ireland warn

HAP tenancies at risk amid spiralling rents and living costs, Focus Ireland warn

Mike Allen of Focus ireland

More families and individuals are facing eviction from Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) tenancies due to soaring rents, with an Oireachtas Committee hearing that the cost of living and the scrapping of the eviction embargo were also pushing people into emergency accommodation.

The Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage heard from Focus Ireland HAP levels were not keeping pace with costs including rent, with the situation highlighted by the 10% increase in family homelessness nationwide across 2021.

It said some Homeless HAP tenants are paying up to €650 per month top-up to their landlords, with the minimum reported as €180 per month and an average of €350 per month.

Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy, Mike Allen, said: “Our staff is seeing more families and individuals facing eviction from Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) tenancies due to soaring rents. Rents have risen but HAP payments have not.

"Tenants must pay the rent shortfall themselves - on top of the share of rent they already pay. HAP tenants need the same protections as people in secure social housing, such as earlier warnings on arrears and more time to resolve the situation when they find themselves in arrears.” 

Focus Ireland said HAP levels were last adjusted in 2016, while the RTB rent index has risen by 30% since then.

It comes as the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive said the rise in the level of family homelessness was "concerning".

According to the recently-published DRHE monthly report for last December, there were 802 families and 3,133 single individuals in emergency accommodation at the end of 2021. However, while those numbers represented a decrease compared to the figures in November, there are 60 more families in emergency accommodation in December 2021 compared to January 2021 and 79 more single individuals.

By the end of last December, there were 114 families living in commercial hotels, a marked decrease from the figure of 175 in January 2021 and down massively compared to the 871 families that were living in hotels in March 2017.

However, the number of families exiting homelessness into tenancies has fallen considerably, with 695 families taking that route last year, compared to 1,220 in 2020 and 1,137 in 2019. That means an average of just 58 families left emergency accommodation and into a tenancy last year, while the same report said 169 families, involving 424 children, had been in emergency accommodation for more than two years.

According to the report: "The DRHE will be undertaking research to examine duration and exits and, in particular, to examine if factors such as ineligibility for social housing, ethnicity or large family sizes are affecting families’ ability to exit homelessness. There are renewed efforts across the sector to engage with Landlords to encourage uptake of the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment scheme.

"The principal reason for the rise in family homelessness is the fall off in exits. Average monthly exits were 98 in 2018, 141 in 2019, 186 in 2020, and 58 for 2021. While a fall was to be anticipated given the lower number of families in homeless accommodation overall, the level is concerning if progress on the reduction of family homelessness is to be maintained."

Mike Allen said: "Before Christmas, we sent all TDs and Senators a booklet of drawings by children who are homeless with their families and who we support. The booklet also contained a clear message imploring you to ensure that ending child homelessness becomes one of our first milestones. We strongly recommend that the next report on homelessness from this Committee should seek to identify the milestones required to end homelessness by 2030, and how they are to be reached."

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