Responding to the Housing Needs Assessment figures published by the Government today (19.09.11), Threshold said the significant increase in levels of need comes as no surprise and the real levels of need may be much higher.
“The Government’s figures show there are over 98,000 households in need of housing, as of March of this year,” said Aideen Hayden, Chairperson of Threshold. “This is a significant increase since the last Housing Needs Assessment in 2008, but we believe the real level may be much higher again – potentially double the official rate.
“The Housing Needs Assessment focuses only on those who have come to the attention of, and are interacting directly with, the authorities. But Threshold knows there is a whole raft of people experiencing housing problems who do not fall into these categories. Single people, for example, are strongly discouraged by many local authorities from placing their names on housing waiting lists.
“Furthermore, thousands of people are struggling to pay their rent or their mortgages every month, but they do not appear on official lists or receive housing payments. For example, over 95,000 home-owners are struggling with mortgage repayments, but this is not reflected in the Housing Needs Assessment figures.
“Obviously, the situation has been exacerbated by the recession: families that are down an income due to unemployment, or people who are on reduced pay or working hours, are all struggling to keep up with rent and mortgage payments. All of these people potentially have a housing need, but their situation is not considered in the figures published today.”
According to Threshold, the private rented sector is increasingly replacing the traditional local authority housing model.
“People who would, in the past, have gotten local authority housing are now living in the private rented sector,” said Ms. Hayden. “There are many Irish people who face a permanent future in private rented accommodation because of a lack of any other options. Having a significant proportion of our population living in the private rented sector is set to become a long-term feature of Irish life, and policies and regulation must become more robust in response.”
Threshold is seeking greater regulation and inspection of private rented accommodation, specifically through:
- Regulation of letting agents: Threshold wants the Property Services (Regulation) Bill brought forward as a priority in order to root out rogue letting agents, who cause difficulties for both landlords and tenants. According to the organisation, the Bill has been in existence for over two years without any significant progress being made towards its enactment.
- Increased levels of inspections of properties: particularly for those at the lower end of the rental market, where – according to Threshold – accommodation standards are poorer and have gotten worse since the onset of the recession.
Threshold welcomed the priorities outlined by the Minister for Housing and Planning, Willie Penrose TD, in his statement today.
“The Minister indicated today that his priorities for 2012 include the transfer of rent supplement from the Department of Social Protection to local authorities, which is something Threshold feels should take place as soon as possible” said Aideen Hayden. “We believe this would ensure a more effective means of assessing applications for rent supplement and would make it easier for people to make the transition from welfare to work.
“We also welcome the fact that the Minister intends to prioritise regulation of the voluntary and cooperative sector and to explore the potential that exists in relation to bringing vacant properties and unfinished estates into use to address housing need.
“The direction of housing policy in Ireland is shifting away from home ownership and towards long-term rental solutions. This impacts equally on both private market tenants and those in receipt of social housing supports. We need to acknowledge that – from now on – more people in Ireland will be living in rented accommodation than ever before.
“We’re moving to a period where the rental sector will dominate housing policy. Public policy and solutions must be planned out and effective, so that people in need are protected and catered for. It’s appropriate and prudent to act now to ensure there is good regulation and management of the rented housing market in future years,” added Ms. Hayden.
Threshold was founded in 1978 and is a not-for-profit organisation whose aim is to secure a right to housing, particularly for households experiencing the problems of poverty and exclusion. Its main concentration of work is within the rented sector. The organisation operates a national office, based in Dublin, and three regional offices. It provides advice and representation to over 20,000 people each year. Further information is available at www.threshold.ie.