Benson hits out at ‘cruel decision’ by Government to end eviction ban

Sinn Féin Councillor Sharon Benson

AFTER heated scenes in County Hall recently after Sinn Féin councillor Sharon Benson was denied the opportunity to speak on the eviction ban, last Monday (May 29) she finally had the opportunity to be heard.

There was angry scenes at the previous April 5 special meeting when council members were prevented from debating a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to extend the eviction ban.

Instead, a counter motion from Fine Gael, calling on the Government to expedite the counter measures democratically passed by Dáil Éireann on foot of lifting the temporary eviction ban, was proposed and seconded on the day.

However, after Limerick City and County Council conceded to Cllr Benson’s legal challenge regarding its conduct at the special meeting last month, it was reconvened this week.

“The latest homeless report from the Department of Housing confirms that homelessness has hit a record high with 12,259 people living in emergency accommodation in April, including 3,594 children. This represents a five per cent increase in just one month,” she told council members.

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Cllr Benson takes the view that the real figures are much higher as people couch surfing, sleeping in cars, people sourcing their own hotel or B&B accommodation, or those sleeping on the streets are not included in this report.

“Last week I spoke to several people working in housing organisations who all warned of the same thing — that many of those whose NTQ’s (notice to quit) began to fall due upon the ending of the eviction ban are over-holding and that the full impact has yet to be seen.

“Many more will become homeless in just three days time as the next date for the staggered terminations arrives on the 1st of June. The Government has yet to answer the question — where will they go?” she asked.

The City North representative also highlighted the case of Lauren, a trainee nurse who is homeless and sleeping in her car while being separated from her two young kids, who spoke about her experience on the radio last week.

“The most heartbreaking part of her interview was that she was questioning what she had done wrong to end up homeless. Lauren didn’t do anything wrong to end up homeless. Like countless others in her situation, she was let down and utterly failed by our government.”

An eviction ban, Cllr Benson says, does not solve the housing crisis, nor is anyone arguing for an indefinite ban.

“An eviction ban only serves to protect tenants until emergency measures can be put in place to prevent homelessness. So what did the Government do during this time? Nothing. They did not engage with local authorities in any meaningful way to prepare them for the chaos that is unfolding.

“The fact is that this government completely failed to adequately plan for the ending of this ban. They sat on their hands and their last minute scrambling has left many with nowhere to go.”

Cllr Benson went onto say that just two weeks out from the lifting of the ban, a circular was sent to local authorities instructing them on the tenant in situ scheme.

“Acquisitions are a slow process and workload intensive but councils have not been assigned any additional staff to process the hundreds of expressions of interest that have already come in and landlords will go to the open market if the process doesn’t move quickly enough.

“This will also have a knock on effect on the housing team’s ability to deliver in other areas and could potentially impact on new build delivery. With just 140 new build units at stage one approval for the city and county, there is already cause for concern. This number needs to be dramatically ramped up and quickly.”

The Government, she hit out, has refused funding for repairs to any properties purchased under the tenant in situ scheme, which will further restrict the Council’s potential to acquire properties and will put enormous strain on its already overstretched maintenance budget, locally.

“The psychological impact of homelessness on those affected by this decision, especially the children, will leave scars for a lifetime. It’s not too late to reverse this decision until such time as appropriate preparations are put in place to protect people from homelessness.”