With the occupation of Apollo House came loud calls for Nama to step up and focus its attention on solving Ireland’s current (and growing) housing and homelessness crisis. In the second installment of a special investigation, TheJournal.ie visits some of the most affected areas to examine if the so-called bad bank has been playing its part in providing social housing.
TAKE A JOURNEY on the Luas Red line and you will be confronted by a massive development.
A complete redesign of the area between the Square and South Dublin County Council, Tallaght Cross is large and airy and has commercial units – including a Marks and Spencer - in the ground floors.
Of the units in the complex, 65 are used for social housing. The number remains low, despite Nama offering the council (which currently has 9,000 people on its housing list) 507 units back in 2012.
So, given that the rejected units alone could have provided 5% of the housing list with homes, why were the units rejected?
“There were three reasons,” says Eoin Ó Broin, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on housing who was a South Dublin councillor at the time.
The government policy doesn’t allow for an overconcentration of social housing and then the council had to get the money to buy the housing. When they went to get the money, they could only get enough for 65 units.
“The other thing is that you really don’t want to create another Ballymun.”
Fianna Fáil councillor Trevor Gilligan says that the development was “way too large and dense to accept all in full” and that works identified in other units could cost “millions”.
A Nama spokesperson says that the units were subsequently sold “following a sales process conducted by a receiver on an open market basis”.
A spokesperson for South Dublin County Council told TheJournal.ie that it could not afford to reclad the whole development.
“SDCC were asked to consider 591 units put forward by NAMA. 507 of these were in one development. The council did subsequently do a deal through NARPS for 65 of these units.
“The 507 were initially considered as unfinished and there were too many to be sustainable for social housing to take the entire development. Due to the nature of works that were required – which involved a complete recladding of the entire development – all other units [the 65] offered were accepted and completed.”
- Investigation: What is Nama doing to help increase social housing supply?
Mark is one person who has lived in the development since 2013 and he says that the right decision was made.
“You don’t want to say this because my neighbours are lovely, but you wouldn’t want to be living in the middle of a 500-apartment social housing complex.
“It’s not a class thing, or a begrudging thing, it’s that I don’t think that kind of development is sustainable.”
Ó Broin says that the council, at the time, felt that it could use money from central government to buy units elsewhere. However, this money was not forthcoming. While there is now money available to councils, he doesn’t believe it is enough.
But, he does believe that the right decision was made in Tallaght. The TD now feels that the moment for Nama to really make an impact in social housing has passed.
“You have to take this on a council-by-council basis. In this case, I would be satisfied that SDCC did everything it could. The important point now is that only 173 houses are left of Nama stock.
While there are 1,000 empty units in Ireland, 500 are owned by AIB and 450 by Permanent TSB. They’ve offered those houses to the State, but funding for only 200 has been approved. On the basis that these are suitable for social housing, they should be bought. These aren’t on private markets, they’re not driving up prices for first-time buyers.
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan last week told Ó Broin that the well of Nama stock of social housing is essentially dry.
“I am advised that NAMA, in its capacity as secured lender, currently has exposure to 173 residential properties which are temporarily vacant. I am further advised, by Nama, that these properties are currently on the market for sale, with many already sale agreed, or are between tenancies. Therefore, those 173 properties represent frictional vacancy and NAMA debtors and receivers expect these to be occupied quickly.
“The fact that there are so few vacant properties in the Nama portfolio reflects Nama’s stated policy of ensuring that houses and apartments are made available to potential purchasers or tenants in a timely fashion.”
Of those 173 properties cited by Noonan, 73 are in Dublin.
Dr Paula Russell of UCD’s School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy says that while concerns around social housing concentration are valid, they are not the only issue.
“There is an issue when there is a huge concentration, but the research isn’t clear cut around social housing mixing. Social housing can be very successful, they can have great community spirit but the concentration can be a problem for a range of reasons.
“The mix is probably what we want. We don’t want to stigmatise social housing, we don’t want people to necessarily know that people are in social housing, you want people to just be from homes.”
Russell says that a desire for “simple answers” can cloud the debate on housing policy, which is in itself very complex.
I can see the argument that the housing list could be eaten into, but it needs to be more nuanced than that.
“There has to be an overview of where the demand is, what resources and facilities are you offering. Are you going to get people to move there? Some people will want to have their support networks around them. You don’t want people to have to leave their jobs because they can’t get someone to mind their kids.
“I think trying to clear your backlog in one place isn’t a great idea. We have to build more social housing, but you have to get the mix right and get the facilities right.”
For more from this special investigation, follow this link.
Investigation: What is Nama doing to help increase social housing supply?