We are seeing record levels of homelessness in Ireland. An eviction ban will serve to keep hundreds of children safe in their homes in the coming months. We can say this because we have seen it work before. The emergency measures introduced during the pandemic kept families out of homelessness. During the Covid moratorium, family homelessness fell by 39%, though it is important to note that the number of single people living in emergency accommodation continued to increase.
While noting that fact, it is still that case that an eviction ban will provide protection for children and families and breathing space for the State to bring forward solutions.
This protection is an imperative as the capacity to increase the Emergency Homeless Accommodation ranges from limited to none across the country and there is no capacity or affordability in the housing system to move people out of homeless accommodation into housing.
However, if action is not taken during the moratorium, the above will still be true in April 2023. The exit of landlords from the market will continue and we will return to a catastrophic situation of rapidly increasing homelessness, and in particular, family homelessness.
So, while the eviction ban is in place, we need to think about the actions needed to get us ahead of the crisis.
- Provide a route for those at risk of homelessness into a secure home
While the moratorium is in place, the Government needs to take action on the high levels of vacancy in the State and use those properties to build capacity in the public housing system. They also need to expand the roll out of the tenant in situ scheme, where local authorities purchase homes with the HAP tenant in situ, bringing that home into public ownership and allowing the private landlord to exit the market.
- Work with Landlords that will remain
It is clear that thousands of landlords are to leave the market and there is little to nothing that can be done to stop their exit. However, there are thousands of landlords who remain but are perhaps unsure as to what they will do next year. The moratorium on evictions provides an opportunity to speak to those landlords currently exiting to understand the push factors and build bridges to those good landlords who may be willing to stay and provide secure homes. In short, we need to take measure, likely tax measures, to hold on to what we have in the private rental market.
- Implement the Simon Homeless Prevention Bill
The Simon Prevention Bill passed first and second stage in the Dail with cross party support. The Bill, if enacted, would ensure that where a Local Authority determines a person or family to be ‘at risk of homelessness’, there could be an extension in the notice period for that household. This provides additional time and space to access supports. Those supports would need to be provided or supported by the local authorities, but in many cases, they are there already. However, like the moratorium the Simon homeless prevention plan, or indeed any plan to address homelessness for that matter, only works if there are secure affordable homes to be found.
The moratorium is the answer right now but it isn’t an answer to the crisis. It will only have a lasting impact if the Government uses this time to take action. The all-time low levels of affordable properties available in the housing system evidenced by our most recent Locked Out of the Market report, where no properties were found within standard rates of HAP, our recent RED C poll which suggest hundreds of thousands of people experience hidden homelessness in the last 12 months and the 3,220 children and 7,585 adults shown to be in homeless emergency accommodation, are markers of the scale of the crisis individuals and families are facing. It is imperative that the commitment to action beyond the moratorium is comparable to the crisis.
Head of Policy and Communications at the Simon Communities of Ireland