In February of this year Maggie Corrigan was consumed with making a documentary about homelessness in Dublin, specifically looking at how it affected lone parent families.
It was impossible to find people willing to talk about their homelessness on camera when all of a sudden she found herself at the centre of her own housing nightmare.
As the due date loomed closer for my documentary, I decided to look at the housing crisis through a different lens. I placed my son in front of every house we have ever lived in. He is ten, there were twelve houses. Sometimes we moved of our own volition to move up to the city, to be closer to his primary school and two of those house moves were with his father.
Mostly though we have moved due to rental increases and substandard accommodation and it hasn’t escaped my attention that we are getting pushed further and further from the city centre with each move.
Ironically at the editing stage I received an eviction notice from my landlord. Asking us to leave our home of almost four years due to his sister going through a fictitious divorce and the house needing to be restored for her imminent arrival. This has since proved to be false and I am now taking action against him through the PRTB.
I spent weeks barely sleeping as I scoured Daft frequently seeing “No Rent Allowance Accepted” or its more legal and friendly term “Professionals Only”. I went to house viewings where people mistook it for an auction and began to outbid each other in order to gain the lease. The rental cap loomed heavily in my mind.
80,000 people are homed through rent allowance paid to private landlords. Over half of these households pay an additional “top-up” to meet soaring rents. The caps of rent allowance have remained fixed despite a 9% increase in Dublin rent this year alone. In its inception rent allowance was deemed as a short term solution, the majority of its recipients are now long term claimants.
I eventually found a landlord willing to accept rent allowance after I had asked my son’s father to be his primary caregiver while I was homeless and had made arrangements to place our belongings in storage.
The rent was within market value but outside the archaic rent allowance limit. I had numerous fruitless conversations with the Rental Unit, who advised haggling with the landlord and that Daft was merely a space where landlords imagined their dream amount of rent and was in no way reflective of reality. They insisted on the Rental caps limit being honoured.
Infuriated I engaged with numerous services. One Family, Threshold, Citizens Information, housing activist friends and others that work within homeless services. From there I gathered much more useful information. I was advised to take out a loan to cover four months rent as it would take that long for my claim to process.
I had to put together a dossier explaining my need to stay within the area we have lived in for the past seven years. This included employers references, letters from my child’s school, my university, our doctor, my counsellor, my son’s father, after school care and activities. I included numerous rental ads to show Market value.
Overall my application consisted of 92 pages in total. I had taken the house and moved in with no guarantee of being granted rent allowance and at risk of losing our deposit.
I wrote a cover letter that pleaded and begged our case and asked for a discretionary overpayment under
“412 2007, Article 38 (1)” which allowed payment in exceptional circumstances where “it appears to the Executive that the circumstances of the case so warrant”.
Three months later I was awarded rent allowance. It was a harrowing experience. All the more knowing that I face this bureaucratic nightmare again in a year’s time, as neither the rental market nor the Dept of Social Protection will undergo regulation.
Dr. Rory Hearne a senior policy analyst with TASC estimates there are 500,000 households in the midst of a housing crisis through a combination of homelessness, emergency accommodation, increasing rents, substandard accommodation or mortgage arrears.
Numerous organisations have called upon the government to declare a national emergency in regards to housing. This year’s budget would have a wholly different outcome if an emergency were to be declared.
It would have less emphasis on tax cuts and nominal child benefit increases and enact an effective housing strategy that goes further than the minimal Housing 2020 plan currently tabled.
People Before Profit have stated 33% of members of the Dail are also landlords. Rent controls have been asked for time and time again by the nation’s leading housing organisations and activists, but not even considered, despite their effectiveness throughout Europe in providing security for tenants and alleviating housing problems.
Urban primary schools are reporting a sharp increase in homeless students. One school stating that 12% of their students are from a currently homeless family.
More than likely my son will move into his fourteenth house when our current lease is up or face possible homelessness again. Our case was far from exceptional.
Photography by Paul Reynolds