Why are the numbers of people homeless at record level and what can be done to stop further increases?
Author: Emma Byrne
The latest official homeless figures show that there were 10,568 individuals in emergency homeless accommodation at the end of July- the highest number of people officially homeless since records began in 2014. This time last year, 8,132 people were being accommodated in emergency accommodation, the latest figures show that number of individuals in homelessness is 30% higher than the same time last year. Family homelessness has more than doubled.
The real number of people who have no home is no doubt considerably higher as local authorities across the country are reporting that every emergency bed is full, and people are being asked to stay temporarily in unsuitable circumstances while new shelters are being commissioned.
This is a stark and worrying increase and demonstrates how quickly a situation can change. The return to pre-pandemic levels of homelessness is extremely disappointing and very concerning given the successes that were achieved at the height of the pandemic when renters were protected from eviction and huge efforts were made to move people out of homeless emergency accommodation with an urgency rarely seen before.
The emergency rental protections that were in place on and off from March 2020 to April 2021 in response to the Covid-19 public health emergency were lifted in April 2021 and evictions began taking place again. The lifting of the moratorium on evictions coincided with slight month-on-month increases in the total number of people in homelessness from May 2021 onwards, however, the number of people in emergency homeless accommodation has been increasing even quicker since the beginning of 2022.
Why are the numbers of people homeless increasing?
Put simply, the number of people officially homeless is rising because there has been a significant reduction this year of the number of individuals exiting emergency accommodation compared to previous years while the number of people presenting to homeless services has remained constant. For example, in Dublin, for each family that left emergency accommodation to a tenancy in July, 2 families entered emergency accommodation, which is driving up the total number of individuals and families in homelessness.
Figure 1 demonstrates the number of exits from homelessness so far in 2022 by tenancy type, compared to previous years. Of course, the numbers exiting homelessness in 2022 is lower because data only exits for half the year, but Figure 1 shows a dramatic difference between 2022 so far and previous years. In Q1 and Q2 2022, only 958 households exited homelessness, compared to 2,735 households exiting homelessness in same period last year- a 65% decrease.
The main reason for the decrease in exits from homelessness is the shortage of private rental accommodation, specifically using HAP, which has heavily been relied on in recent years, making up between 60-70% of exits between 2016-2021. The number of people leaving homelessness for a HAP tenancy in the first half of 2022 was just 20% of the number able to take the same route last year. 394 households exited homelessness using HAP in the first half of 2022, compared with 2,000 households in the first half of 2021. A recent analysis by Simon Communities of Ireland of properties available for rent within HAP rental limits shows that there has been a stark decline in the number of affordable rental properties which is making moving out of homelessness near impossible. Reluctance of landlords to accept HAP tenants also makes it increasingly difficult for people looking to rent what little housing is available with the social housing support. The limited route out of homelessness, combined with new households presenting to homeless services, is driving up the total numbers in emergency homeless accommodation.
Rise in number of pending evictions in 2022
Since the rental protections were lifted in April 2021, there was a significant increase in the number of pending evictions. Data from the RTB, as shown in Figure 2, shows that in Q2 2022 the number of NoTs issued was 98% higher compared to the same quarter last year. The underlying reason for the increase in evictions taking place points to a concerning trend. In Q1 2020, 50% of landlords stated that their reason for eviction was intention to sell, however, this has now increased to 61% in Q2 2022. So, not only are evictions increasing, the number of rental properties available to rent is also reducing which will make it even more difficult for people to avoid entering, and to leave, homeless emergency accommodation.
What is different now compared to the previous record level?
In 2018, approximately two thirds of homeless households were adult-only households and around one third were families. The make-up of homeless households now looks very different as the make-up of the number of households officially homeless is made up of a greater proportion of adult-only households, with family and child homelessness lower than the 2019 record level, although this is increasing quicker than adult homelessness. In July 2022, approx. 80% of homeless households are now adult-only and 20% are families.
Figure 3 demonstrates the different make up of households now compared to when there was a previous record number of people homeless in October 2019, compared to the new record just set. This shows that single adult homelessness has never stopped growing, even when the pandemic rental protections were in place and that family homelessness had started to plateau from 2018, decreased at the beginning of the pandemic, and started increasing again from mid-2021. What is more challenging about the current situation compared to the previous 2019 peak is that while the number of individuals is similar, the number of households in homelessness is greater because there are more adult-only households. This means that we will need more housing if we are to reduce this number.
What measures can help prevent further rises in homelessness?
A further rise in homelessness is not inevitable and a combination of immediate and long-term targeted measures need to be introduced now if we are to stop homeless from rising further and if we are to deliver on our European commitment of ending long-term homelessness by 2030.
- Budget 2023 needs to be utilised by Government to incentivise as many landlords as possible to remain in the market for at least 5-7 years, until social housing supply improves. There are an estimated 100,000 households who use some form of State support to rent from private landlords and these households are at a particularly high risk of homelessness if the current trend of landlord leaving the market continues. Focus Ireland has set out 6 key actions that we believe can contribute to stemming the flow of households into homelessness from landlords deciding to evict-to-sell. Read more here.
- The Government needs to temporarily reintroduce the moratorium on evictions that was in place during the Covid-19 pandemic under the emergency powers that are available to the Minister in times of crisis to allow other measures to take effect.
- Households who currently rely on HAP to pay their rent should immediately apply to their Local Authority to increase the amount payable to landlords under the new discretionary powers made available to Local Authorities by Minister O’Brien in July 2022 – they can do that using a new tool developed by Focus Ireland here.
- Research must urgently be conducted into Adult-Only homelessness and why rental protections that were effective at limiting the numbers of families presenting to homeless services was less effective for adult-only households.
- The only long-term solution to ending homelessness in Ireland is a rapid build programme of new social and affordable housing. The reason that our current homelessness and housing crisis exits is because the building of new build social housing ground to a near halt during the austerity years following the Global Financial Crisis. Only a build programme to make up for this shortfall will be successful at ending homelessness.
- The Government’s target is to deliver 9,000 newly built social homes this year but only 639 new build social homes were delivered in in the first quarter of the year and the figures for the second quarter have not been published at time of writing.
- Increasing the supply of social housing will continue to face very serious challenges given the continuing effects of Covid-19, and its impact on construction supply chains, the fallout from Brexit, rising inflation costs, interest rate rises, the cost-of-living crisis, and wider geopolitical uncertainty. All barriers to construction must be removed, and flexibility and innovative thinking will be required by Local Authorities and Government if the goal of delivering 90,000 new build social homes by 2030 is to be met.
- It is essential that as well as delivering more housing we are delivering the right kind of housing. Most households on the social housing waiting list only require 1-bed homes and most households in homelessness are single adults. Specific targets must be set, and plans must be developed by the Department of Housing to increase the delivery of 1-bed units.
- With over 25% of households now privately renting, many with state support, a strategy needs to be developed and implemented to build a more stable, secure and affordable rental sector which would give certainty to both tenants and landlords.
 Social Housing Delivery by Area Q1 2022– https://assets.gov.ie/228797/00abd099-4f73-4cfb-a1f9-b9491b982796.xlsx
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