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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
inertia creeps

'This is a battle over the future of public housing': Councillors set for showdown over O'Devaney Gardens

Bartra has been contracted to build 768 houses and apartments on the site.

IT LOOKED SEWN up earlier this month when Dublin City councillors approved the redevelopment of O’Devaney Gardens on Dublin’s northside.

Following an 11th hour “agreement” struck between councillors and developer Bartra, it seemed that three years of discussions at Dublin City Council had finally concluded. 

Built in 1954, O’Devaney Gardens – once home to 272 social houses – was originally set to be redeveloped in 2008 through a public-private partnership between developer Bernard McNamara and Dublin City Council.

Cue years of inertia until September 2016 when councillors voted to push ahead with its redevelopment through its Housing Lands Initiative, which aims to work alongside developers to build a mix of social, affordable and private housing on large council-owned sites. 

On Monday 4 November, members of the Dublin Agreement group – made up of Fianna Fáil, Labour, Social Democrats and Green Party councillors – announced that they had “secured a commitment” from developer Bartra that 30% of the total units will be purchased from the developer at market price and offered as “affordable-rental” in an attempt the end the deadlock. 

The deal foresees the site being divided between 30% social housing, 30% affordable-rental, 20% affordable-purchase and 20% private dwellings.

The “commitment” from Bartra CEO Michael Flannery is to sell 247 of the 411 private dwellings at O’Devaney to an Approved Housing Body (AHB), which in turn will offer these units as “affordable-rental”. 

However, representatives are now questioning how workable that scenario is in reality and whether the “agreement” or “deal” struck with Bartra was above-board. 

‘Incompetent Or Deliberately Misleading?’

Two days after the vote, Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy wrote to Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe.

Claims of “a deal”, Murphy said, were made without any consultation with his department and that buying the units earmarked for “affordable-rental” will require significant capital and in order to repay the finance, he said. 

That means rents would have to be set at current market rates, which would not be “affordable-rental”. 

Murphy said funding was available for the deal that the city council brought to government but that no Affordable Housing Body had yet come on board. 

Murphy added that the government believes in mixed-tenure when it comes to housing and said it wanted to build sites for all members of the public, including a mix of private, social and affordable homes.

Questions were also asked regarding whether or not the “agreement” with Bartra raised legal issues relating to the procurement process – a claim quickly dismissed by Lord Mayor McAuliffe. 

Sinn Féin’s Housing spokesperson, Eoin Ó Broin TD – who obtained the letter from the Housing Department – said Murphy’s letter confirmed that “no such deal had been secured”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke on Monday, Ó’Broin said there was no funding for affordable rental accommodation to be provided by the Department of Housing and that there was no request for such funding.

“Even if Dublin City Council was to buy 30% of the units from Bartra, because the price they would be buying them at is so high they wouldn’t be affordable to rent.

“In fact, the rent would be close to market rent. So either the Dublin agreement group are incompetent and didn’t know what they signed up to, or they deliberately misled other councillors.”

‘Only solution’

It’s important to note that the new “deal” or “agreement” struck between Dublin Agreement councillors and developer Bartra remains purely aspirational.

There is only a “commitment” from developer Bartra to selling 30% of private units at O’Devaney to an AHB. 

Despite postponing a decision on O’Devaney in late October, councillors who finally approved a deal on 4 November voted for what was essentially the original Sinn Féin deal struck in September 2017. In other words, 30% social housing, 20% affordable-to-buy and 50% private residential.

Sinn Féin councillors, however, still disagree with the cost of the “affordable” units, figures drawn up by council management in negotiations with Bartra and not councillors. That is why a vote on O’Devaney was postponed in early October, Sinn Féin councillor Daithí Doolan said. 

Secondly, Doolan said, there is not enough gain for the local community. “The developer is basing the sale of the private units on a belief that he bought that land on the private market and he didn’t. He got the land from the city council for nothing.”

The question is did councillors feel they were misinformed or vote through a deal under false pretenses?

Labour councillor Alison Gilliland told “No.”

“We were very clear on what we were doing … we were determined to find a way of getting affordable rental on that site while respecting the tender agreement [with Bartra].

“Purchasing privately from Bartra was the only solution,” said Gilliland. 

Gilliland said that Dublin Agreement councillors aim to put in place a form of affordable rental scheme at O’Devaney to avoid rents being set at market prices and that informal discussions have already taken place with a number of Approved Housing Bodies. 

“I’m absolutely disgusted at Sinn Féin,” said Gilliland. “They are making a political football out of O’Devaney and they’re trying to undermine it even though I count nine times that they’ve supported it.”

Councillors, meanwhile, could potentially still move to rescind the deal which transferred the O’Devaney lands from Dublin City Council to Bartra.

On Monday evening at City Hall, Sinn Féin will table a motion calling for the arrangement to be rescinded. 

Said Doolan: “[Dublin Agreement councillors] are failing to see that O’Devaney Gardens is a battle over the future of public housing in Dublin and across the State.” 

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