David Young, Cillian Sherlock and Grainne Ni Aodha, PA
The Government has pledged “safety net” measures for renters as it stood firm on its decision to lift the temporary ban on evictions.
Ministers agreed a series of measures at Cabinet on Tuesday in response to intensifying calls from campaigners and opposition politicians to extend the ban on no-fault terminations of tenancy.
A non-binding Sinn Féin motion calling for an extension to January will be debated in the Dáil on Tuesday evening.
Measures to support both renters and landlords will be outlined in a Government counter-motion to the Sinn Féin proposal. A vote is set to be held on the counter-motion on Wednesday.
Several Independent TDs have yet to declare whether they will back the Government and Sinn Féin has claimed the outcome could be close.
The temporary prohibition on evictions, which was introduced in November, will run out at the end of the month as scheduled.
While critics of the move claim it will result in the current record levels of homelessness soaring even higher, the Government has insisted that prolonging the measure will see more landlords leave the rental market, reducing an already low supply of accommodation further.
An expansion of the existing tenant-in-situ scheme is a mainstay of the Government support measures.
The scheme empowers local authorities to buy homes where tenants who are in receipt of Housing Assistance Payments or are part of the Rental Accommodation Scheme have been threatened with an eviction notice.
Measures will also allow for local authorities to step in for other renters faced with eviction who cannot afford to buy their home.
The authorities will be able to purchase the properties and operate them on a cost-rental basis, with the existing householders being able to stay on with lower rental payments.
A further initiative will give renters the first right of refusal to buy their rental home if it is put on the market.
A share equity scheme would see renters being able to secure 30 per cent of the purchase price by way of a state grant, with local authorities also able to offer home loans at rates lower than those available on the open market.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who outlined the measures after Cabinet, said the Government was offering “safety net guarantees”.
The Government initially set at target for 1,500 homes to be purchased under the tenant-in-situ scheme, but Mr Ryan said that was set to be increased.
“We’re putting centre stage the protection of tenants, the protection of people at risk of being homeless, and I think significant developments in that regard is the expansion of the tenants-in-situ scheme, going beyond the 1,500 houses or having the capability of going beyond that,” he said.
The Taoiseach later outlined support measures for landlords to encourage them to stay in the market.
He said there would be a tax package in the budget for smaller landlords to encourage them to stay in the sector; an extension of a refurbishment grant scheme for renovating derelict properties for the rental market; while people renting out rooms in their homes will not have their social welfare or medical card entitlements affected.
While Sinn Féin’s motion calling for an extension is non-binding the party’s housing spokesman, Eoin Ó Broin, insisted it was not purely symbolic.
He said a defeat for the Government would represent a “huge blow” which would force it to change its decision.
Mr Ó Broin said the vote on Wednesday will be “very, very tight”.
“There is a significant number of independents who are indicating they are going to vote against the Government because they are unhappy how they are handling this crisis,” he said.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald later told the Dáil the Government was set to knowingly inflict a “tsunami of misery” on renters.
“With your eyes wide open you intend to lift the eviction ban knowing that this will spell disaster for so many,” she told Mr Varadkar during Leaders’ Questions.
She added: “You sound to me like somebody who has thrown in the towel and thrown renters to the wolves.”
Mr Varadkar said the Sinn Féin motion would discourage more landlords from entering the market and would make the situation worse.
In sharp exchanges with the Sinn Féin president, he added: “It seems to me that you see housing not as a crisis to be overcome or problem to be solved, but as a political issue to be exploited.”
Labour has indicated it will support the Sinn Féin motion on extending the ban, with the party's leader Ivana Bacik making clear they will proceed with a motion of no confidence in the Government next week if ministers refuse to change course.
“We don’t do this lightly,” she said. “I’m conscious this is a big thing to do, to put down a motion of no confidence in Government. But the overwhelming evidence, the overwhelming stories, the overwhelming account we’re hearing from people in such distress, and indeed from homeless agencies, council authorities and from our councillors…
“I think all of this compounded and combined serves to tell us that this is the right decision to take if Government doesn’t act, and there is time for Government still to act.”
Labour has drafted emergency legislation to indefinitely extend the eviction ban while providing for an “evidence-based mechanism” for lifting it by order of the minister if homelessness figures fall for four months in a row.
Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan has already confirmed she will vote against the Government on the issue.
Ms Hourigan has previously voted against the Government and lost the Green Party whip for six months last year.
On Tuesday, Mr Ryan said Green Party TD Steven Matthews and Senator Roisin Garvey had been “very supportive” of the measure despite reported criticisms.
Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan claimed the Green Party has capitulated to the two bigger parties in the coalition – Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil – in agreeing to lift the evictions ban.
He branded the Government move “utterly reprehensible”.
People Before Profit–Solidarity TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the Government is poised to turn a “dire crisis into a total social disaster” if it proceeds with lifting the evictions ban.
He encouraged people “to take to the streets in protest” on a planned march in Dublin on April 1st, and urged tenants to stay put if they are evicted and have nowhere else to go.