England & Wales Housing and planning, Welfare and equalities

Policy Developments and Responses to Homelessness in Ireland

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Like the UK, Ireland has a homelessness crisis. The approach of the Irish government to dealing with the crisis has been markedly different to the UK government. Bob Jordan from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive explains what the response has been.

Almost 10,000 adults and children are living in emergency homeless accommodation in the Republic of Ireland, which has a population of 4.8 million. The number of people homeless has increased by 52% since June 2016, with 70% located in the Dublin region.

Ireland has a homelessness crisis because it has a housing supply crisis. Following the economic crash of 2008 construction stopped, both public and private. Capital expenditure on social housing was cut by 88% between 2008-2014 and the focus of housing supports for low income households shifted more towards the private rented sector.

Construction is underway again, but a backlog of demand has led to unaffordable property prices and high rents for many. Double digit rent inflation in recent years means that rents now exceed the previous peak of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ era by 27%. About half of all homeless families in Dublin have come directly from the private rented sector.

What has been the response?

Rebuilding Ireland, an integrated housing and homelessness strategy, was published by the Government in July 2016. Its goals are to dramatically increase public house building by providing 50,000 new social housing units by 2021, accommodate 87,000 households through social housing supports delivered in the private rented sector, and ramp up house building to 25,000 units per year.

By situating homelessness within a broader housing policy, the strategy goes beyond traditional emergency solutions to promote measures that prevent and end homelessness. The approach to service delivery is regional, led by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on behalf of the four local authorities in Dublin and by 8 other regional lead authorities.

Preventing homelessness is a key issue. Prevention Teams within local authorities visit and support families at risk. A National Tenancy Protection Service targets households facing tenancy loss due to rising rents with enhanced rental support payments, through a protocol operated by a NGO on behalf of the Department of Social Protection.

Other initiatives include:

  • Social Housing support called Housing Assistance Payment for both homeless people and people on the social housing list with prescribed upper limits (similar to Local Housing Allowance), but with discretion to increase payments on a case by case basis to prevent homelessness.
  • Regulation – security of tenure for renters increased from four to six years, tightening up of rules for landlords issuing eviction notices, and strengthened enforcement by the Residential Tenancies Board.
  • Rent Pressure Zones where rent increases are limited to a maximum of 4% annually

The provision of suitable emergency accommodation with a focus on move-supports has been critical. ‘Family Hubs’ are replacing the use of commercial hotels and B&Bs as temporary accommodation for homeless families. Families living in hubs have their own self-contained bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as access to shared kitchen, cooking and play facilities with onsite supports.

A minimum of 156 people were counted rough sleeping in Dublin last November, down from 184 the previous Winter. An average of 300 additional emergency beds has been added every year since Rebuilding Ireland was published.

Housing First is a key part of the Government’s approach to resolving chronic homelessness. Housing First has been operating in Dublin since 2011 with an 86% success rate in housing retention. A national implementation plan published jointly by the Minister for Housing and Minister for Health last September will see Housing First rolled out in every local authority area with funding from both Departments. Over 700 additional tenancies are to be in place across Ireland by end 2021.

While homeless presentations remain at high levels, prevention initiatives, more suitable emergency facilities, and a strong focus on exits to tenancies, means that in 2018 the net increase in the number of families homeless in Dublin was just over 5%. With the scaling up of housing supply, the goal is to ensure that far more households leave homelessness than enter it.

Bob Jordan is National Director of Housing First for the Republic of Ireland.