The reaction of some landlords and their representative bodies to the measures contained in the Government’s ‘Strategy for the Rental Sector’ exposes the flawed direction of government policy which seeks to meet social housing need primarily through the private rented sector.
Rates of home ownership in Ireland are in decline, social housing now accounts for only around 10% of housing across the country and it is estimated by the National Economic and Social Council that between 25-30% of the population are unable to access satisfactory housing in the market.
Almost 2,500 children are living in emergency homeless accommodation. In this context, successive governments have turned to the private rented sector to meet an increasing proportion of the long term housing needs of low and middle income households, who previously might have accessed social housing or in some cases support to purchase their own homes.
The Irish Property Owners Association describes the measures to improve rent certainty for tenants contained in the Strategy as ‘gross interference’ in the rental market. It has been reported that some landlords, in response to the introduction of these measures, will withdraw from schemes which provide housing supports to low income tenants and will begin to pass on new charges to tenants who are already struggling to meet astronomical rents and who are moving into homelessness in ever increasing numbers.
In light of this, is private rented housing the most appropriate housing solution for families at risk of homelessness or trying to move out of emergency accommodation? Can the long term housing needs of people on low incomes, including families and single people with low earnings potential, older people and people with disabilities, best be met in the private rented sector when even the most modest proposals to improve security, standards and rent certainty are met with such trenchant opposition?
SVP recognises that many landlords, particularly those who entered the sector in recent years, are struggling, evidenced by the large number of buy to let mortgages in arrears. Reform of the tax treatment of rental income should certainly be examined and it is reasonable for landlords in the private rented sector to seek to make a profit from their investment. However what is required by tenants is also reasonable – affordable housing which meets the changing needs of the household across the lifecycle, with secure tenure in good quality, energy efficient homes. This continues to be an aspiration rather than the reality for too many of the people St Vincent de Paul is helping, and the reaction of some landlords to the Strategy offers little reassurance that tenants can hope for any improvements in this regard.
The state needs to seriously re-examine its plans to meet such a large proportion of social housing need through the private rented sector. This means increasing the build and acquisition of real social housing by local authorities and approved housing bodies and examining options such as secure cost rental for middle income households. While the Housing Assistance Payment and Rent Supplement- and the landlords who accept these payments - have supported many households out of homelessness and are providing a home for people to live in right now, the bottom line is that these households are guaranteed neither affordability nor secure tenure in the long term.
Living in private rented accommodation, with very limited security of tenure, little hope of accessing home ownership or social housing and only a guarantee of increasing rents in the coming years is a dismal prospect for an increasing proportion of the Irish population. Let’s have more ambition for our housing system and our citizens.