Let’s talk about…The eviction ban

Could outrage over eviction ban be put to better use elsewhere?

A month has passed since the Government officially moved to not extend the moratorium on evictions in place since October, a decision that was met with much scrutiny by the public, who seemed to have (en masse) swayed in favour of its extension during discourse on the issue in the weeks prior. However, the topic has not faded from the public eye just yet, as it seems the Government is unable to shake the backlash their controversial decision has ignited.

The lifting of the eviction ban was never going to go down well, something the Government doubtlessly had no illusions about. In the lead-up to the official decision in early March, there was a huge outcry from members of the public and calls by politicians to maintain the ban, expressing the view that doing otherwise could directly lead to people suddenly being left homeless, serving to exacerbate the very problem the ban was intended to tackle in the first place: the housing crisis.

When the ban was introduced back in October, it was as a temporary measure in response to the spiralling housing crisis, which, having been compounded in extremity by the cost of living crisis occurring simultaneously, had a lot of people worried that they might enter homelessness over the winter months. Reportedly, around 2,700 notices to quit were paused following the ban being introduced, testament to the tangible good the policy did manage to do for many families and individuals, even if temporarily. That said however, it remains the case that in January, two months after the ban came into effect, the amount of people in emergency accommodation stood at a record high of 11,754, leading the Taoiseach himself to admit the ban hadn’t worked to stop the increase as intended.

With that in mind, as well as worries that an extended eviction ban would discourage landlords from the sector and send the housing supply plummeting further, after much deliberation, the Government decided last month to end the ban. But the issue remains a hot topic due to the scale of the backlash the decision continues to spark – not just from the public, but from public representatives too.

Just last week, the Government faced a motion of no confidence brought forward by the Labour Party following the ban’s lifting, with just 86 TDs voting in favour of the confidence motion and 67 against. The relative closeness of this result exemplifies just how controversial the decision has been, but the outcome itself only cements what’s already been decided; the ban’s lifting will go ahead, and the (positive or negative, depending on which politician you ask) knock-on effects this will have on the housing crisis going forward will soon be seen.

And yet, the discourse continues. In addition to the expected anecdotal stories popping up of the real-world impact the ban’s lifting is having (or will soon have) for ordinary people, the topic retains a prime space within the news cycle, with headlines from various media outlets this week reporting of allegations from homelessness campaigner Fr Peter McVerry that the Taoiseach overruled the Housing Minister to get the ban lifted, and of the endless back-and-forth between political parties using the issue to boast their party’s position and condemn their opponents. In fact, it seems as though the eviction ban has become very much the central talking point within mainstream discourse around the housing crisis.

It’s understandable that this issue would be contentious and gain a lot of traction – after all, both people’s livelihoods and welfare are potentially at stake over this ban. However, it seems that in recent weeks, it has almost become the sole focus of housing crisis discourse, and I worry there are other aspects of the crisis that need addressing which are being overshadowed by this controversial issue.

Frankly, it seems to me that the outrage over the ban being lifted, though well intended and reasonably founded, doesn’t look like it will have the effect it’s hoped to. Whether or not you believe it’s just for the Government to end the ban, it doesn’t look incredibly likely that any more amount of opposition will overturn the decision that’s been made. And in the meantime, if we continue to focus solely on advocating for the ban’s return, there is a possibility we won’t pay proper attention to other measures which could have a more profound impact on tackling the housing crisis than the ban ever did.

Even the measures the Government is now vowing to put in place to ease the impact of ending the ban seem to be getting away with a lack of scrutiny. Take for example one of the major measures being put forward: legislation that would provide tenants with first refusal to buy a property if the landlord decides to sell up. On paper, a policy that would protect renters from being unhoused, but in reality, one which would provide little respite for struggling renters; as Social Democrats Leader Holly Cairns put it, “Let them eat cake is not the solution when the masses can’t even afford bread”.

All this to say, that by focusing on the seemingly unachievable goal of imploring the Government to overturn the ban’s lifting, we are potentially opening ourselves up to letting half-baked and ultimately ineffectual measures go under the radar, as well as diverting our focus away from other proactive solutions to tackling the worsening housing crisis.

The ban did manage to save a lot of people from losing their homes over the past few months, and thankfully so, so it is disappointing to know this safeguard will no longer be in place for those who need it, but the emergency accommodation figures reveal that the ban alone was not enough. Instead of fighting what looks to be nothing but a losing battle at this stage, maybe we need to focus on putting pressure on our elected representatives to tackle this issue in other more effective ways.