Threshold Welcomes New Campaign to Prevent Families Becoming Homeless
– Charity says other measures also needed to address current housing crisis –
Threshold, the national housing charity, has welcomed the new campaign to prevent families becoming homeless, which was launched by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities today (17.06.14). Threshold will play a lead role in supporting families at risk of homelessness as part of the new campaign.
Commenting today, Senator Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold, said: “Two of the key pillars of this campaign are the provision of a free telephone helpline for families at risk of homelessness and an agreement that all relevant stakeholders will work together to intervene in cases where families in receipt of Rent Supplement are in danger of losing their homes. Threshold will lead both of these aspects of the campaign.
“We will operate the helpline – Freephone 1800 454 454 – on behalf of the four local authorities in Dublin. Any families that are renting and worried about losing their home are encouraged to call this helpline for assistance in maintaining their tenancy. Once they contact us, we will undertake a number of key intervening steps, in partnership with the Dublin local authorities and the Department of Social Protection.”
The steps taken by Threshold to support families at risk of homelessness will include:
- Working with the Dublin local authorities and the Department of Social Protection to intervene where a family is in receipt of Rent Supplement and is in danger of losing its tenancy. Typically, this would be due to the family being asked to pay rents above the maximum limits prescribed by the Department. This may involve, for example, challenging what appears to be an unreasonable rent increase either directly with the landlord or by means of a rent review hearing at the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB).
- In circumstances where all other interventions to keep the family in their home have been exhausted, recommending to the Department that the family in question should have their Rent Supplement payments temporarily increased. The Department may then decide to provide additional financial support to the family in question for a period of up to 13 weeks, during which time Threshold and other service-providers will work closely with the family to identify sustainable, long-term solutions to their housing needs.
- Engaging with all relevant service-providers that could potentially assist in supporting the family in question, i.e. money advice, legal advice, housing, employment and health services.
“Threshold has worked proactively since we were founded in 1978 to prevent homelessness, and we have been advocating the measures announced today for many years,” said Senator Aideen Hayden. “We have always believed that the most important goal – when it comes to housing – is to keep families in their homes. We are delighted to see government taking on board our recommendations, and we are pleased to take a lead role in this new initiative. In the midst of the current housing crisis, it is essential that all stakeholders work together to ensure vulnerable families are supported before they fall into homelessness.
“A focus on prevention is – undoubtedly – the best way to address homelessness. Preventing families from becoming homeless in the first place not only means a far better personal outcome for the individuals concerned, but also saves money for the State in the long term.”
Other Measures Needed to Address the Housing Crisis
According to Senator Hayden, however, a range of additional measures are needed to address the current housing crisis and to ensure all families in Ireland have access to appropriate housing options that are sustainable in the long term.
“The campaign launched today has been developed by the local authorities and government in response to current serious challenges in the housing market, but it is only a temporary,” she said. “The initiative only applies to the Dublin region, and its primary focus is on providing immediate supports to families in receipt of Rent Supplement who are in danger of losing their home. Single people and tenants in other urban centres also face these challenges and they must be considered for inclusion under this initiative too.
“In the longer term, a range of measures need to be employed to fix Ireland’s broken housing market. A serious shortage of affordable rented housing is leading to unaffordable rent increases for many households. Introducing a system of rent control is the only way for the Government to curb the exorbitant rent increases that are driving families into homelessness. Such a system must legislate for reasonable and predictable rent increases and provide stability for both tenants and landlords.
“The Rent Supplement scheme must be completely overhauled. The caps on Rent Supplement payments and administrative difficulties associated with the scheme make it increasingly difficult for tenants to secure new accommodation or to keep their current rented home. The scheme must be re-designed in a way that enables low-income households to compete in the private rented market.
“The Housing Assistance Payment – which has been earmarked to replace the Rent Supplement scheme and address some of its flaws – is not being introduced quickly enough. If this is to be the principal way that government proposes to meet the long-term needs of those currently receiving rent supplement, then it must be brought forward immediately before the current housing crisis becomes any worse.
“The private rented sector cannot be the sole response to meeting the needs of the 90,000 families on housing waiting lists. It is essential that a comprehensive social housing programme is rolled out, where local authorities and voluntary housing bodies deliver at least 6,000 additional social housing units annually. It is the housing shortage in urban centres that has led to the current housing crisis and it will require significant financial investment by government to increase supply for those who cannot afford market rents.”