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Overcrowding, severe mould, rotting wood: The issues with this Celtic Tiger council estate haven't gone away

In this south Dublin development, families feel like they have been abandoned.

Source: Google Street View

WHEN THE THREE council estates in Balgaddy, Lucan, were first built eight years ago, the development was hailed as a shining example of modern social housing.

The sleek design won a number of awards and residents who had been waiting on housing lists were looking forward to settling down in their brand new homes.

It was not long before cracks started to appear – literally in some cases.

Families living in the houses began to complain of issues with damp and mould, leaks, poor ventilation and structural problems. Back in 2011, South Dublin County Council was involved in a dispute with the builders, demanding money to cover costs of resolving the many issues in the estates.

A number of tenants were moved, but most still remain in the houses and flats and they say the problems have not gone away.

A community garden run by residents in Balgaddy. Source: Michelle Hennessy/TheJournal.ie

This week TheJournal.ie visited a number of homes in the Meile an Rí estate in Balgaddy and spoke to residents about their living conditions.

Overcrowded

At the outset, it was clear that a number of their homes were overcrowded. Their families had expanded over the years, but they had not been moved to properties to accommodate them.

Sitting in the Balgaddy community garden, local activist and resident Lorraine Hennessey pointed to a row of 11 houses.

There are 43 children living in those houses, and that’s just the children.

In a small two-bed flat nearby, one woman spoke of the difficulty of having three daughters, all sleeping in one small double bedroom. Her girls are 4, 9 and 14, the youngest is constantly running around full of energy and the eldest is going through puberty and due to sit her Junior Certificate this year.

“I have her doing supervised study in the school because where can she study here? It’s stressful for her,” she explained.

Their living space speaks of a family who have done the best with what they had; decorated with pride, family pictures hung about the place, warm and comfortable. But it feels like a flat that was built to house one person or, at most, a couple.

There’s no privacy, we’re on top of each other all the time. We can’t have a conversation, him and me, in regards to health, finances, any of that. We have to be outside or the kids have to be outside because you can hear everything in here and there are things we wouldn’t want to worry the kids about.

When she first moved in she was a single mother with two young children and her home was just the right size for the small family. Now married with three children, she wants a bigger space for them, but has been told it will be eight years before anything will be available for them.

Damp and mould

Like other residents in the Balgaddy development, this mother-of-three has had experience with damp walls. She was told it was caused by the residents three floors up and council workers placed a false wall over the damp one in her bedroom as a fix.

However she said the walls in her daughters’ bedroom still get damp and extremely cold, especially in winter. Two suffer from asthma and she worries the conditions in the flat exacerbate it.

She is not the only parent concerned about the health implications of these living conditions.

A woman whose son has severe asthma and Kawasaki’s disease, an autoimmune disease, showed us a letter his doctor wrote for her to give to the council. In it, he said he had seen photographs of the damp and mould in the boy’s bedroom.

“I am in no doubt that the mould is contributing to his poorly controlled asthma,” he said, adding that he strongly supported the mother’s application for a change of accommodation.

Mould behind the wardrobe in the bedroom of a boy who suffers from asthma.

That was in 2012. The woman and her two children are still living in the same house and she said she has to clean the walls with bleach every few weeks to keep the mould at bay.

‘Pattern of tenant use’

In response to a parliamentary question back in 2011, then Minister Brian Hayes acknowledged there was an “issue with condensation and mould growth”. He said this arose as a result “of increased insulation linked to ventilation levels required by the building regulations”.

“In some cases condensation is a result of building fabric failure and in others by the pattern of tenant use,” he said at the time. Residents joke about suggestions made in the past that they are to blame.

“They think people here don’t know how to live in houses,” one woman said. “I was told the damp on my kitchen ceiling was because I was cooking there – in a kitchen!” She eventually managed to convince the council to install an extractor fan over her cooker.

Structural issues

In a two-bed duplex in the Meile an Rí estate, one mother-of-two has been having a lot of sleepless nights recently.

She had noticed a dip in the turn of her staircase. When the carpet was ripped up, she discovered the planks underneath had started to rot.

“That’s an eight foot drop under there,” she told TheJournal.ie. When council workers arrived to assess the damage, she had them take some photographs of the space underneath her stairs and said she was shocked to see how it was being held up.

“The wood underneath just looks shoved in, the nails are all bent.”

She is still waiting for the council to send a structural engineer to look at the staircase and discuss a solution.

I’m terrified. I’m panicked about it, I can’t sleep at night worrying about it. I feel very unsafe in my own home.

‘Forgotten’

For years, this community has been trying to have its voice heard. The estate was one of 20 which took a complaint against the State to the European Committee in Strasbourg. However the council has, in the past, been adamant that there are no systematic construction defects in the homes.

“People here, they feel forgotten about, and they would be despondent,” Lorraine Hennessey explained. “They wouldn’t have any real faith that anybody in authority really is taking the issues that are affecting them into any consideration.”

We’ve got the highest amount of children in the whole of south county Dublin, one of the highest for dependency, disability dependence, 63% lone parents. These are communities where the most vulnerable people live and they’re not looking for anything outside of what other people have, basic things.

TheJournal.ie asked Dublin City Council for a comment on the issues raised by residents we spoke to, and whether representatives would be willing to meet with a community group to discuss their concerns. The council did not respond.

Read: Mother forced to live in one room with kids as mould takes over rented apartment>

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