Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012: Committee Stage; The Housing Crisis and Child Homelessness

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Amendment No 53, Section 15:

An amendment to section 20 of the Principal Act to provide for the extension of the duration between rent reviews from 12 months to 24 months for a period of 4 years, after which the period will revert to 12 months.

***requirement on the part of the Landlord to justify the reasonableness of the rent increase***

While this amendment falls far short of the measures of rent certainty I would like to have seen introduced, for example rent increases that are in line with an external measurement like the Consumer Price Index suggested by Threshold, I absolutely welcome this amendment as a much needed and long overdue first.

The latest quarterly Daft Report was published today and shows that in the third quarter of 2015, rents rose nationwide by an average of 3.2%, which represents the largest 3 month jump in rents since 2007 while supply on the rental market, just 4,000 properties available to rent nationwide today and very few of which offer affordable family accommodation, at its tightest on record.

The current “monopolistic private rental market”, characterised by rapidly increasing rents and a complete dearth of housing supply is intrinsically linked to our spiralling homelessness and risk of homelessness crisis.

Minister, I have spoken on this issue on a number of occasions in the past. I only plan to speak on this grouping of amendments this afternoon.

I have a number of questions and I look forward to hearing your answers from the floor. I will also be happy to forward any of these questions to you in writing if they require time for further consideration.

In November 2014 homelessness agencies were reporting that 700 children were living in emergency accommodation. In twelve months, this figure has now grown to 1500. It is extremely likely that this number will continue to increase as:

  • supply continues to be constrained and there’s no indication of a step change in new supply, given the pipeline of sites that are development ready and with available finance ;
  • new homes recently announced (modular housing) will only serve to meet part of the back log;
  • the private rented sector is likely to remain attractive to those who can afford it, and those who cannot access homeownership- I.e. So called ‘young professionals.

Affordable family accommodation is therefore chronically under supplied.

Minister, do you have a figure for projected demand for emergency accommodation for families with children? What exactly are you planning for?

Setting aside numbers in emergency accommodation, research has shown that where homelessness among children increases, this is coupled with a rise in children living in unsuitable and/or overcrowded accommodation, sometimes sharing with other families, which parents view as preferable to presenting as homeless.

Minister, do you have an estimated figure for the number of children who are living in overcrowded accommodation? Has a study been done into this area of concern or is one planned?

I and many of the children’s rights organisations (such as ISPCC) following these issues, are deeply concerned at the immediate and the long term impacts for children who are placed in emergency accommodation.

Temporary accommodation (whether hostel , emergency or any other forms of temporary accommodation) can all adversely impact on children. In many cases the lack of stability and uncertainty is deeply worrying for children and this is reflected in anecdotal evidence from the ISPCC Childline service.

It affects children’s ability to play due to lack of space, and often quiet spaces to study are impossible to find. At its worst, lack of natural light and outdoor spaces are also likely to affect development. Children report being extremely stressed, and often hide this stress and worry from their parents, who are also often struggling.

Emergency hotel accommodation is the most concerning type of accommodation for homeless children. It should only be used in exceptional circumstances. Right now, it is increasingly being used as ‘the norm’ because of a severe lack of purpose built temporary accommodation for families. I am genuinely concerned about child protection issues, safety issues, security issues s well as the range of developmental impacts as set out briefly above.

Minister, has TUSLA been involved in assessing the suitability of hotels /hostels that are housing families with children? If so, have they determined that some forms of accommodation are unsuitable? Who determines whether there may be child protection risks?

Are individuals working in hotels where homeless children are placed Garda vetted? If not, why not? I appreciate Minister that hotel staff are not normally vetted but the placing of children in hotels as a formal State intervention to the homelessness crisis changes the said hotel’s official usage. The children are living there, playing there, growing up there. On this basis, they could be a place of interest to predators. It is absolutely essential that urgent steps are taken to ensure all children in emergency accommodation are safe.

In other jurisdictions, with similar homelessness levels, emergency accommodation is used as an exception and then for no more than six weeks. How many children have lived in emergency accommodation for more than six weeks and Minister do you agree that this is unacceptable?

Are wraparound services available for all families in emergency accommodation, and what steps are being taken to work with families to help them secure and keep a tenancy elsewhere?

Minister have officials from your department been assigned to inspect emergency accommodation and its suitability for children on an ongoing basis? For example, to assess the safety and security of shared and communal areas and the availability of safe spaces to play.

Have you made any requirements of providers of emergency accommodation to make the accommodation suitable places for children? Has TUSLA been involved in advising on suitability?

Finally, I have a few questions concerning the new modular housing project for Dublin:

  • Will the design of modular housing reflect the fact that it is to be purpose built accommodation for homeless families?
  • Will the design meet the needs of children, and will there be sufficient space for children to play?
  • Will TUSLA and other organisations be consulted on the design of this accommodation, and if so, when?

Statements on Homelessness Wednesday 3 December 2014

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According to the Dublin Simon Community, the official count for rough sleepers last month was 168. This represents a 30% increase in numbers since Spring 2014 and double the number since November 2012.

This is a time of many sickening firsts and all-time highs:

  • Emergency accommodation now has over 1600 adults plus 680 children. That’s never happened before!
  • Of the 1600 adults in emergency accommodation, 39% are women. That’s never happened before!
  • Emergency accommodation is turning into long term accommodation with no viable options to transition onto. That’s never happened before.
  • Many have given up looking for emergency accommodation.
  • Others believe themselves to be safer on the streets than in emergency accommodation.
  • Individuals and families are being are evicted from private rental properties every day of the week, unable to meet rent increases in an unfettered market.

We have an Emergency on our hands and it is winter. A very cold winter.

The numbers are steadily increasing and we need to act. Really act. Not a knee-jerk panicky reaction following the tragic death of Jonathan Corry. A dedicated and sustained response that looks at the crisis holistically.

For it is not just a homelessness crisis. This is a housing crisis.

A housing crisis characterized by a shortage in the social housing sector and a serious lack of affordability in the private rental sector, exacerbated by an absence in rent regulation, a rent supplement scheme completely out of sync with actual rental prices and the absence of measures to prohibit landlords discriminating against tenants on rent supplement.

The unprecedented crisis in the social housing and private rental sectors is pushing non-typical candidates into risk of homelessness and homelessness itself, for example, there are as many as 150 families in emergency hotel accommodation, the majority of whom have been pushed out of the private rental sector by spiralling rents.

Aside from the massive cost to the State, this hotel  and B&B accommodation is completely inappropriate, hugely disruptive for families and children, who may have to move schools as a result, and potentially unsafe.

I call on Government to immediately family proof all forms of emergency accommodation and to coordinate with the Child and Family Agency and emergency accommodation staff concerning child protection.

The crisis is in turn putting unprecedented pressure on frontline services and pushing those more “typically” vulnerable to homelessness (those with addiction issues and mental health difficulties and in complex situations such as young people aging out of State care, victims of domestic violence leaving the home) it pushes them  further and further to the margins only to resurface to public and political attention when they die in their sleeping bag, sleeping rough on the door step of the National Parliament.

The recently published Private Residential Tenancy Board Consultant’s Report found that rent control would make the housing market worse.

Focus Ireland rejected this finding. It maintains that rent regulation is a crucial part of a suite of measures, including an increase in rent supplement to reflect the actual cost of rent and tax breaks for landlords to encourage them to rent their properties.

I would also subscribe to a measure of rent regulation against an index as in many European countries or in line with inflation.

There are many initiatives to be commended, however there are “buts” attached to nearly all of them. For example:

  • Housing 2020 and the recently announced Social Housing Strategy but realistically we are 1.5/2 years away from meaningful delivery.
  • The new rent increase protocol agreed with the Department of Social Protection for families at imminent risk of homelessness but it is only available in Dublin and what we really need is a level of flexibility throughout the system and at an earlier juncture.
  • The Housing Assistance Payment, which is receiving a positive response from Landlords in terms of there being a guarantee around rental payment but doesn’t actually prohibit landlords from refusing to accept tenants in receipt of financial support. Also, how are people to find suitable accommodation within the maximum rent limits?

Excellent recommendations have been made in these regards and more by Focus Ireland, Threshold,  Dublin Simon Community and Peter McVerry Trust. The solutions are there. They just need to be implemented.

In closing, I would like to briefly discuss something a number of colleagues in this House said yesterday concerning Jonathan Corry and the fact that he had been offered assistance and accommodation over the 30 years he had been homeless, which de declined to take up.

I sympathise deeply with Jonathan Corry’s family and friends following his death. I didn’t know him or anything about his mental health status but I think these examples of people failing to take up an intervention and seemly choosing to remain homeless needs to be viewed in light of the Dublin Simon’s recent statistics on mental health difficulties among their service users, whereby 71% were identified as having a mental health difficulty.

Of those identified with a mental health difficulty:

  • 63% of individuals have been diagnosed with depression.
  • 46% have been diagnosed with anxiety.
  • 11% have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • 11% have been diagnosed with psychosis.

A very high proportion of people who are homeless have addiction issues.  Furthermore, a very high proportion of people who have a mental health difficulty also have an addiction issue.

I call on the Government to urgently implement the key recommendations from Mental Health Reform:

  • Fully staff homeless outreach mental health teams.
  • Ring fence local authority housing for people being discharged from psychiatric hospitals.
  • On-tap, in-house mental health expertise within homeless services. E.g. Merchants Quay Ireland has an in-house mental health nurse full time, to provide support to clients that other staff members have concerns about. There are anecdotal reports that this has reduced the number of people having to access mental health supports through A&E when in a crisis.
  • Establish a dual diagnosis services for people with a mental health and addiction/alcohol misuse problems.

We have the reports. We have the plans. We have the expertise, particularly in the NGO sector. What we need now is action. Sustained and dedicated.

The Lancet

In July 2021, Jillian co-authored an article in the world-renowned medical journal “The Lancet”