Having a secure home is becoming a more and more distant prospect for too many people across all housing tenures – whether through home ownership, privately rented or social rented housing. It is estimated by the National Economic and Social Council that between 25% and 30% of the population as a whole require some support in meeting their housing needs.
Trends in housing in Ireland are changing. Home ownership is declining, which has its own implications, particularly in the longer term. Private renting has increased dramatically and the proportion of the population renting local authority housing has declined from a peak of 18.4% in 1961 to 9% in 2011. High rates of tenant purchase during the 1960s-1980s, followed by low levels of the construction of local authority housing explain much of the decline (NESC, 2015:7).
The current social housing strategy, Social Housing 2020, provides for the provision of 110,000 units of social housing. Social housing ‘supports’ to low income tenants in the private rented sector, rather than actual units of social housing, are to be the main mechanism to meet social housing need. The reliance on the private rented sector to meet social housing need over the past two decades has been an abject failure, and is a direct cause of the increase in family homelessness. SVP believes that while there is a role for a well-regulated and affordable private rented sector in meeting social housing need in the short term, a return to the provision of social housing by local authorities and approved housing bodies is the only real and lasting solution to the housing and homeless crisis which Ireland is facing.
In 2015 the majority of social housing supports provided by local authorities were delivered via leasing, the Rental Accommodation Scheme and the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). While the Housing Assistance Payment has a number of advantages over the Rent Supplement Scheme, including the fact that recipients pay a differential rent (based on their income) and can take up full time employment and still retain support for their housing costs, it also has disadvantages. The main drawback of the scheme is that a recipient of HAP is deemed to have their housing need met and so is no longer on the social housing waiting list. The problems of insecure tenure and exposure to rising rents in the private rented sector remain for HAP tenants, who no longer have the prospect of possibly being allocated a social housing unit in the future. HAP tenants can apply for a transfer to social housing provided by the local authority, but in many areas the likelihood of receiving a transfer is remote.
The reliance by Government on the private rented sector to house low income tenants who would traditionally have been housed by local authorities or approved housing bodies is putting a great deal of pressure on the sector, increasing the risk of homelessness for low income tenants and is exposing the State to the cost of rising rents. A change in the direction and focus of housing policy in Ireland is required. SVP is seeking a reversal of the direction set out in Social Housing 2020, where 70% of social housing supports are to be provided via ‘social housing supports’ such as HAP and Rent Supplement to a commitment to meet 70% of social housing need through the provision of social housing units by Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies.
This will take time to achieve but investment in social housing units is vital if the causes of the housing crisis are to be tackled and overcome.