Eoin Ó Broin: Urgent action needed to tackle crisis in the private rental sector

As homeless figures approach record numbers again, it is critical we address the crisis now.
Eoin Ó Broin: Urgent action needed to tackle crisis in the private rental sector

Sinn Fein spokesperson on Housing Eoin Ó Broin TD. Picture:Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

At the end of July, the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien released the June homeless figures. In that month 10,492 people, including 3,071 children, were in the Department of Housing-funded emergency accommodation.

The June figures saw just 22 fewer people officially homeless than the October 2019 peak, when 10,514 adults and children were in emergency accommodation.

There is little doubt that when the July figures are published at the end of this month the figures will be higher again.

Of course, these figures don’t reflect the true level of homelessness. They don't include rough sleepers, women and children in Tusla-funded domestic violence refugees or men and women in hostels not funded by the state.

They also don’t include over 3,000 adults and children with leave to remain but are unable to leave Direct Provision because of the shortage of housing.

The figures also don’t include the unknown number of people living with family and friends in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation or sofa surfing.

Whatever way you count it, the homelessness crisis has never been as bad, and it is going to get worse.

A homeless person sleeping rough in a doorway, June's homeless figures showed 10,492 people, including 3,071 children, were in the Department of Housing-funded emergency accommodation. But does not include figures for those sleeping rough.
A homeless person sleeping rough in a doorway, June's homeless figures showed 10,492 people, including 3,071 children, were in the Department of Housing-funded emergency accommodation. But does not include figures for those sleeping rough.

A chronic undersupply of social housing coupled with the growing number of single property private landlords exiting the market is driving the homelessness crisis.

On Friday, the Residential Tenancies Board released the latest Notice to Quit figures. They show that in Quarter 2 of this year; 1,781 tenants were issued with eviction notices by their landlords. This is up more than 100% since Quarter 2, last year, when the number of notices issues was 841.

Back at the start of 2021, when the Covid-19 ban on evictions was in place, there were just 352 notices issues in the first quarter.

In April of that year, Minister O’Brien ended the eviction ban. By the end of the second quarter, the number of notices had more than doubled to 841. Throughout the remainder of the year, it rose steadily, hitting 1,132 notices in quarter 1 of this year.

But even seasoned analysts of our housing crisis were surprised by the most recent jump. And the fear is that this trend is going to continue as more and more landlords exit the market.

Accidental landlords, people who never intended on renting out a property, are availing of the return of positive equity. Many semi-professional landlords whose interest was not the return on rent but a cash lump sum contribution to their pension pot are also cashing out.

Other semi-professional landlords complain about high levels of tax and complicated, ever-changing regulations.

Resentment

There is also a growing resentment among single property landlords at the sweetheart tax deals gifted to build-to-rent institutional investors who pay no tax on their rent roll or capital gains.

With rents at record levels, there is no doubt that the majority of landlords are making a very significant profit on their investments.

However, if single property landlords continue to exit the market while Government fails to provide an adequate supply of social housing,  then homelessness will continue to rise.

Indeed, the shrinking of the private rental sector coupled with Government failures on social, affordable and student accommodation explains the escalating housing crises across all these sectors.

For four years I have been urging ministers for housing to put in place a plan to slow down the disorderly exit of single property landlords from the market while dramatically increasing the delivery of social and affordable homes. Those calls have fallen on deaf ears.

The latest RTB eviction notice figures must be a wake-up call. Inaction is no longer acceptable.

Yesterday, I wrote to Minister O’Brien urging him to convene an urgent meeting to address the crisis in the private rental sector.

That meeting should involve tenant and landlord representative bodies such as Threshold and the IPOA/IPAV. The RTB should be in attendance as well as opposition housing spokespersons.

The purpose of the meeting should be to agree on a plan to respond to the deepening crisis in the private rental sector.

 Niamh Lambe, Family Services Manager, Focus Ireland, sitting on a bed in a space designed as a typical 12x12 foot hotel room showcasing what life is like for the more than 3,000 children living in emergency accommodation. Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
 Niamh Lambe, Family Services Manager, Focus Ireland, sitting on a bed in a space designed as a typical 12x12 foot hotel room showcasing what life is like for the more than 3,000 children living in emergency accommodation. Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Options

All options must be on the table including — a temporary ban on evictions into homelessness; an increase in the purchase of rental properties with HAP and RAS tenants in situ with Notices to Quit; increased resources for the RTB; reform of the tax treatment of all landlords; and an increased and accelerated social and affordable housing programme including the use of high-quality modular homes and increased use of vacant properties.

In the last year, homelessness has increased by 30%. Child homelessness by a shocking 40%. The latest RTB figures make it very clear that business as usual will see those figures rise month on month into 2023.

Resorting to meaningless soundbites about increases in planning permissions and commencements won’t cut it. We need radical action and we need it now.

Eoin Ó Broin TD is Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing.

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