CATHERINE Hayes* came to Threshold’s office in Cork last week in distress. With her husband and three young children, she was facing the terrifying prospect of homelessness.
Catherine’s problem was down to one reason alone: Her landlord was increasing the rent and she couldn’t afford to pay the higher amount.
Catherine’s story is typical of the massive turmoil a family can face due to an increase in rent. For low-income families on Rent Supplement, in particular — where a limit to the amount of rent they can pay is set by the State — a rent increase can spell disaster.
Much attention has been given in recent months to rising rents in Dublin, the growing rate of homelessness in the capital, and the shortage of affordable rental accommodation. But — as Catherine’s story shows — the housing crisis is not just a Dublin problem. It is now impacting on other urban centres nationwide, including Cork, Galway and Limerick.
In Cork alone, rents increased by an average of 6% last year. The knock-on effect is that the most vulnerable are being priced out of their homes, with people in receipt of rent supplement particularly affected.
At the end of 2014, there were 145 households in emergency homeless accommodation in Cork City, for example, and nearly 314 people were in short and longer-term homeless accommodation, with the numbers of people presenting to homeless services in the region increasing by 28% last year.
Threshold responded to over 4,000 queries from Cork households in difficulty in 2014. The vast majority were facing issues that could place them at risk of homelessness, such as notices of termination and rent increases.
To support people in Cork who find themselves at risk of homelessness, a Tenancy Protection Service is being established. This will be operated by Threshold on behalf of Cork City Council. The service is targeted at people living in the private rented sector, who are facing problems that may put them at risk, such as unaffordable rent increases, notice of termination or a threat of illegal eviction.
Such a service has existed in Dublin since last year and its rollout in Cork was a key action emerging from the Homeless Summit chaired by the Alan Kelly, the environment minister, last December.
It is Threshold’s experience that as little as €25 per week can make the difference between a family holding on to their home, or becoming homeless.
As part of the new Tenancy Protection Service for Cork, Threshold will also administer the Interim Tenancy Sustainment Protocol. Under this protocol, rent supplement recipients who face losing their home due to a rent increase, may receive an increased payment above their relevant maximum rental limit.
Once the protocol has been put in place for a family or individual, Threshold will assist in identifying alternative options for the household concerned. A family or individual receiving additional support under this protocol will have their case routinely reviewed on a quarterly basis.
The Tenancy Protection Service in Dublin has protected 340 tenancies and supported over 1,300 families at risk of homelessness since being established in June 2014.
Threshold will also provide and operate a freephone helpline — 1800 454 454 — for tenants who are worried about losing their home.
However, all of these measures — while welcome — are only temporary solutions. In the longer term, Threshold is calling on the Government to establish a robust strategy for the private rented sector to give tenants greater security in their homes.
Further measures are needed to ensure that low-income households can afford to live securely in the private rented sector. These include: overhauling the Rent Supplement scheme; introducing rent regulation to curb excessive and unaffordable rent increases; and ensuring that properties meet basic legal standards.
Threshold has always believed that the most important goal is to keep families in their homes. Thankfully, for Catherine and her family, we were able to achieve that goal. We negotiated with their landlord to stall the introduction of the higher rate of rent for 12 months.
The establishment of the new Tenancy Protection Service in Cork will enable Threshold to help more families like Catherine’s. It is an important step in ensuring those affected by the housing crisis outside the capital city can also avail of support.
- *Real name changed to protect the identity of Threshold’s client.
Russia’s pivotal role in ending Holocaust