independent

Thursday 22 August 2019

HAP rejections could see family made homeless

Mary and Cian McGuire
Mary and Cian McGuire

Pádraig Byrne

An apparent unwillingness for landlords to accept the council's Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme has a single mother of two young boys facing homelessness.

Mary McGuire has been living at Pierce Court for the past two and a half years, however, now that her landlord has opted to sell up, she has nowhere to go. The single mother says she has a great relationship with her landlord, who has been extremely understanding and even given her extra time to try and make alternative arrangements, but she cannot source another place to live.

Mary says that when assistance was sought from Wexford County Council, she was told that all they could give her was emergency accommodation in a B&B in Courtown. As she doesn't drive, this would make it near impossible to get her two boys (9 and 4) to school in the CBS in Wexford or to continue her part time job that she works three hours a week.

'It's so stressful,' Mary said. 'It's heartbreaking. My nine year-old is coming home from school every day and asking me "did you find anywhere for us to live yet?" A nine year old should not be stressing about things like that. I can't sleep at night myself because I'm so worried about what will happen.'

Mary explains that since she got her notice on her current home, she has been constantly ringing around letting agents and on daft.ie trying to source alternative accommodation.

'I'm on the phone from morning 'til night trying to sort something,' an exasperated Mary said. 'All the houses that are on Daft at the moment I've applied for. Not one of them will look at me because I'm on HAP. I can offer excellent references and everything, but they just don't want to know. They say it's not because of HAP, that I'm just "unsuitable", but when I don't mention HAP initially I've no problem getting a viewing.'

Mary says that she struggles to even get viewings at houses and apartments in Wexford when she mentions she's on the HAP scheme, which sees the council pay a percentage of the rent, while she makes monthly payment to the council and her landlord.

Apart from being offered emergency accommodation in a Courtown B&B, another option outlined to Mary was to present at Wexford Women's Refuge.

'I don't want to do that,' she said. 'I don't want to take up a room there when there's women out there that might really need it. That's not what it's for.'

Mary and her two sons need to vacate their current home by the middle of April and at this stage, she simply doesn't know what she's going to do. 'I'm not going up to the council looking for them to give me a house,' she said. 'I want to rent a house, but nobody will take HAP. If somebody came to me in the morning with a house to rent, I'd take the hand and all off them.'

Sinn Féin councillor Tom Forde says that Mary's problem is by no means unique and that he is coming across these types of situations on an increasing basis.

'We're told that it's illegal for a landlord to refuse on the grounds of HAP, but there's simply no way of enforcing this,' he said. 'With some letting agents, it asks on their initial forms if you are a HAP tenant, and you'd have to imagine that this rules them out of the running straight away. What I'd like to see is the council investing in housing units specifically for people who find themselves in this situation. I think we should at least look into the feasibility of some housing of this kind. Surely a good chunk of money is being spent on emergency accommodation in these B&Bs anyway. Would it not be better to buy some units and give these people their dignity?'

Meanwhile, the future is uncertain for Mary and her two boys, with the deadline looming before she has to vacate what has been her home for the past two and a half years.

Wexford People

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