Mica could hasten the homeless crisis
North-West Simon Community fear that unless urgent action is taken by the Government, the mica crisis in counties Donegal and Mayo will exacerbate what is already a crisis situation for people at risk or experiencing homelessness in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim.
Noel Daly, general manager of North-West Simon Community was commenting following publication of the Monthly Homelessness Report, which shows that 94 adults and their child dependents accessed Local Authority managed emergency accommodation in the North West region during the Week of 21 to 27 June 2021.
While the latest figure is lower than the previous month - when the official number of people homeless in the north-west reached 100 people in a single week for the first time, - the overall statistics continue to show an upward trajectory.
Analysis of the Monthly Homelessness Reports published by the Department of Housing since 2016, shows that the average number of people provided with emergency accommodation in the north-west more than doubled between January 2016 and June 2021.
The average number accommodated in a single week in 2016 was 43 people, while the average number accommodated in a single week during the first six months of 2021 has been 91 people.
Mr Daly says that ending the current homelessness crisis requires an adequate supply of housing, available to rent at an affordable price, and right now the North-West Region doesn’t have either.
The Simon Communities of Ireland report, Locked out of the Market found that there were 13 properties in Leitrim and nine properties in Sligo Town available for rent on Daft.ie in March 2021. None of the rents being sought for these properties was within the HAP or Homeless HAP rent limits.
Donegal is not included in this quarterly study, however North-West Simon Community’s PlaceFinder Service in Donegal has been carrying out weekly online searches for properties available to rent in the county for a number of months.
In the first three weeks of July, there were between 10 and 19 properties available to rent in a single week in Letterkenny, one property in Bundoran advertised over the three weeks, and two properties available in Raphoe on July 21. None of the rents being sought for these properties was within the HAP or Homeless HAP rent limits.
To rent any of the one bed apartments available on July 5, a tenant would pay €30 per week HAP Contribution to the Local Authority and a Top-up payment of between €22 and €208 per month to the landlord.
This Top-up payment would be in addition to the maximum €408, the landlord would receive from the Homeless HAP. Top-ups of between €73 per month and €436 per month would be required to secure one of the 2, 3, and 4, bed properties advertised on July 5.
The Terms of Reference for the Working Group on the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant Scheme published on July 28 estimates “the scale of the problem in Donegal as being between 1,200 - 4,800 private dwellings and 541 - 1,000 social housing dwellings”.
The terms of reference make no mention of whether restoring the damaged houses to useable condition will require families to move out of their homes for work to take place, but it seems very likely that this will have to happen.
If only one per cent of private homeowners affected by mica in Donegal need to move out of their homes at any one time, Simon Community research indicates there wouldn’t be enough properties available to rent in the entire North-West region to accommodate them.
“In the case of Mayo, the panel estimated that the minimum potential number of private dwellings likely to be affected is approximately 345 with 17 social housing units across three estates known to be affected.”
While North West Simon Community is unaware of the location of these properties, the possibility of households from the northern end of the county looking for a place to rent in the neighbouring counties of Sligo and Leitrim, is an obvious possibility, placing yet more pressure on the rental market in the region.
It seems inevitable in these circumstances that those on low incomes will be squeezed out of the market and the demand for local authority managed emergency accommodation will increase significantly as a result.
“Government must not leave the local authorities and the voluntary sector homeless services across the region to cope with this problem on their own.
"It is imperative that the Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage, prepares contingency plans to accommodate these families to ensure that the North-West region and surrounding counties don’t experience levels of homelessness that are as yet beyond our imagination," Mr Daly warned.
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