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Column: The people of O'Devaney Gardens deserve better than the prejudice they have faced

I grew up in O’Devaney Gardens and it was a great place to live – it would be sad to see it fall into a private developer’s hands, writes Rose Fleming

Rose Fleming

O’DEVANEY GARDENS IS a housing estate located in the north inner city of Dublin, next to the Phoenix Park. It is run down, dilapidated and seen as an anti-social black spot. It has recently come to the media’s attention because of the imminent redevelopment of the site.

I have lived here in this area my whole life. I moved from the actual flat complex in 1998 and have lived right next to it in Montpelier Park for the remaining seventeen years. My father’s family come from Manor Place and my mother and her family have lived in the flat complex since its construction over forty years ago.

I am writing this piece because Dublin City Council will vote tonight on whether to use the land at O’Devaney Gardens for mostly social housing, as has been promised, or whether to give 70% over to a private developer. I will not argue the case for social housing – anyone can see the severe need for it in the city, with the homeless crisis, families living in B&Bs, the cost of rent allowance, and working people being priced out of the rental market in Dublin. Instead, my point here is to highlight how in the arguments in the media about the future of O’Devaney Gardens, and at meetings with residents from the area and surrounding areas, I noticed some prejudice against social housing and the people who live in these estates.

O Devaney Gardens O'Devaney Gardens pictured in 2006 Source: RollingNews.ie

O’Devaney Gardens was the best place to grow up. My neighbours were kind, decent people who worked hard and did their best for their children. O’Devaney Gardens was built with no facilities for its resident or its children; no investment was put into the youth. Some of the young people did engage in anti-social behaviour but that was a very small part of the community –  I cannot stress that enough. As someone who grew up there, it was almost like we were abandoned by successive governments and powers-that-be, so we looked after ourselves. It was a low income area, so the parents set up summer projects to make sure that the children got to go on trips and shared the costs, for example.

In the early 1990s drugs hit Dublin hard, and Dublin 7 was no different. There was no investment put into tackling the issues in areas like O’Devaney Gardens – but rather than watch their area succumb, the parents took it upon themselves and got the drugs out. Even today heroin is a taboo drug in the area and I have never heard of an open user being allowed set foot near the flats.

12/2/2007 O Devaney Gardens Regeneration Projects Part of the complex in 2007

On social media recently I commented on how sad it would be for the area to fall into a private developer’s hands. Some people from more affluent backgrounds were angry that such prime real estate was even being considered for social housing. Had they not worked hard to get money to buy their homes? Why should they have to commute from places like Ballycullen and Terenure when people on low incomes got to live there – as they would see it – scot-free? They pay more taxes and work, and so should be entitled to live there, they argued.

“People who live in social housing to not live scot-free”

Firstly O’Devaney Gardens was built on waste ground that at the time had little value. Now that the value of that land has sky rocketed it does not seem fair or right to push social housing tenants out of their homes and the area they grew up just because more affluent people want to live there. Secondly where are these people supposed to go? To housing estates on the outskirts of the city where there will be no investment in their future and even less job prospects. To me this just seems like creating a ghetto that is out of sight out of mind.

People who live in social housing do not live there “scot-free”. Rent is means-tested, meaning the more you earn the more you pay, and that goes back into Dublin City Council. People who are unemployed make less money and so pay less rent. I understand people struggle paying bills and a mortgage, but the same struggle is felt by that unemployed person who has to pay their rent and bills out of a lower income.

It was actually suggested to me that I was selfish for living in my own council house. That I should give it up and move and let someone who has the means buy it. Firstly, the stereotype of the unemployed person sitting around in their council house has to stop. Social housing from my perspective is diverse. You have unemployed people, single parent families, married working couples, etc. From my own experience, my father worked his whole life as a truck driver while my mother fostered children for the HSE, only taking problem children that the HSE couldn’t find homes for so that she could show them love in a real family with a real community. I myself went to college, work full time and pay my taxes. My rent is means-tested to match my income so I was insulted when it was suggested that I was being selfish for living in my home (which I have lived in for seventeen years) and should move out to a council house in the sticks.

“If I need help, my neighbours will be there”

Last night I walked through O’Devaney Gardens. As the council moved residents out to start the regeneration (or whatever plan they are calling it now) they left it to rot. They have let it get so bad that people will agree to anything in place of the desperate situation they find themselves in now. I walked past many small fires last night. To an outsider this would look like anti-social behaviour but I knew what it was. People from the private houses around the estate with their mortgages and notions of how much better they are than social housing tenants have taken to dumping their rubbish (both household waste and furniture) into the area, sometimes lighting it on fire themselves or leaving it there so the children can do it for them.

27/7/2016 O Devaney Gardens Flats Source: RollingNews.ie

I don’t know what it’s like to live in a private estate. All I know is that I know everyone here. If I need help my neighbours will be there. The children can go play on the road without fear of strangers and even right now my hall door is unlocked because I have no fear of break-ins, as everyone watches out for each other.

For people on the housing lists, those sleeping on the street, families living in one room and those who cannot afford to rent in Dublin, I hope Dublin City Council does the right thing, and I hope that a community that can fully integrate with each other can be built on the O’Devaney Gardens site. In any event this city needs more than 30% social housing.

Rose Fleming is a legal secretary living in Montpelier Park with her brother and his two children. She has lived in and around O’Devaney Gardens for her whole life. 

Photos: O’Devaney Gardens before its last flats are demolished 

Read: A motion requiring all new units in O’Devaney Gardens to be publish housing has been overturned

About the author:

Rose Fleming

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