Social Housing in Ireland has traditionally been the most common means of ensuring that housing is affordable for households on lower incomes, as the rent paid to the local authority or an approved housing body (AHBs) is based on a person’s ability to pay. The shortage of such local authority housing in Ireland today to meet the needs of those affected by homelessness and housing insecurity concerns SVP members who see what the reality is for thousands of individuals affected by the current homeless and housing crisis.
The acute need for increased provision of local authority owned homes is to the forefront of the minds of SVP members who visit and support some of the 9,968 people who are living in homeless accommodation in November 2018. This figure includes 3,811 children. Also relevant is the 71,858 applicants on the social housing waiting list who are registered for social housing. Over a quarter of all households qualified for support are waiting more than seven years for a social housing support. Many of those on the social housing waiting list make up the 326,500 households in Census 2016 who are living in private rented accommodation. This compares to 81,400 (8% of all households) in 1991, representing an increase of 300% over this period renting from private landlords. Behind all these figures and statistics are individuals and families facing stress, worry, trauma and a feeling of insecurity for their futures.
Up to the 1950s, social housing provided the majority of new dwellings and nearly one in five Irish people lived in social housing in the early 1960s.Over the last three decades the provision of social housing shifted from direct built by local authorities to being predominantly provided through the private market through private rental or purchase from the private market, alongside an increased role for Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs). Government funding for new social housing provision fell by 88.4% between 2008 and 2014 and, as a result, output of social houses declined by 91.5%. Austerity intensified this decline in social house building, with the Department of Environment suffering the second highest budget reductions between 2008 and 2012. A Rebuilding Ireland progress report states that the cumulative delivery to the end of Quarter 3 2018 9,388 social homes were built, (The build category includes outputs under Local Authority and Approved Housing Bodies programmes, Regeneration, Voids and Part V) compared to 43,732 HAP tenancies. This is a worrying trend considering the problems currently faced by tenants in the private rented sector.
For too many tenants, the private rental sector is characterised by high levels of insecurity in relation to high rents and in some cases poor standards of accommodation. SVP in its visitation work witness the stress and financial burden placed on families who are in receipt of a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) from the state, with rents at record high levels, many families are paying a ‘top-up’ just to remain in these homes. Government spending on subsidising private rental accommodation through Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rent Supplement has increased by nearly 50% between 2015 and 2018 from €327million to €481 million. A social housing policy which is heavily reliant on the private rented sector to the extent it currently is can never be the answer to the scale of the housing problem. The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) can play an important role in the provision of providing homes but it does require reform.
The housing and homeless crisis did not happen overnight. In the same measure, we understand that it cannot be solved quickly. SVP members through engagement with people affected by this crisis contend that creative thinking and a significantly enhanced role for local authorities is required to resolve our housing challenges in 2019 and beyond.
Norris and Byrne (2016) Social Housing’s role in the Irish property Boom and Bust UCD