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Dublin: 5 °C Wednesday 16 January, 2019
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Opinion: It took us 8 years to build 19 social homes although we owned the land and there were no objections

Bureaucratic and administrative delays could be eliminated if councils were given funding to build homes directly, writes Labour councillor Dermot Lacey.

Dermot Lacey

BEECH HILL TERRACE is a fairly short road in Donnybrook.

When Dublin Corporation developed the estate in the 1950s, it built 10 houses along one side and five on the other 

However, if you stand in the middle of the road now, you will see five new Dublin City Council homes built about eight years ago, nine new affordable homes built five years ago and there are four privately built houses there too.

In addition, this month families’ 19 new social housing apartments were completed there too.

With so many homes built in this one small area, you might think that Beach Hill Terrace is a success story of the housing crisis. 

But those 19 social homes allocated to families this month are the only new social housing units provided this year in the entire constituency of Dublin Bay South – which happens to be the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy’s own constituency.

What is worse is that it took us eight years to complete those homes.

Despite the fact that the 19 social homes were built on land owned by Dublin City Council and that there were no planning objections it still took us eight years to get from the point of coming up with the plan to tenants moving in.

This is simply unacceptable and I believe is a direct result of the failed institution that is the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and of successive government policies.

Choking in Bureaucracy 

The delays were entirely at a bureaucratic and administrative level.

We started with seeking funding: years were spent applying to the Capital Assistance Scheme or the Capital Advance Leasing Facility or the Capital Loan Subsidy Scheme.

Then for several more years, the plans were passed between multiple desks waiting for decisions – that is years of paper moving from the Approved Housing Body to Dublin City Council and then to the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government.

Eight wasted years when people could have had a home – but did not.

Why or how does this happen? Is it inertia, arrogance or is it about clinging to power?

The minister and the officials in the Department of housing claim to be concerned about the housing crisis. Yet they desperately cling on to the power that delays, obstructs and interferes with the actual building of homes.

All of this is allied to a systematic dismantling of the local government system.

That system delivered hundreds of thousands of new quality homes, in far worse economic times, back when it did have the power, resources and funds to deliver.

The Department of Housing claims to have a four-stage process for approval. (It made a great fuss recently of going from eight stages of approval to four stages.)

What it doesn’t tell you is that within each stage there are many other stages and indeed when it comes to using an Approved Housing Body – the Department’s preferred method of housing delivery – those stages are multiplied.

Things change with building projects and another major holdup is that any time there is any change, the new plans have to go back to each of the three bodies for approval. The Approved Housing Body, the council and then finally back to the Department of Housing. 

Why can the Council’s planners not just give it approval? Why do we need three sets of planners and architects? 

Solutions

Every political representative from an area which is affected by housing shortages should look to Beach Hill Terrace, where we did the painstaking work of getting the project funded and built.

If every parish or community in Dublin was to deliver just 20 social homes each, that could provide 7,000 homes across the county. 

Is there a vacant piece of State-owned land in your area? Contact your local representative and demand to know what they are doing about getting housing built there. 

The real key to solving the mess is simply to free the councils to build homes again.

If the council was given a budget to build a certain amount of houses, say 5,000 in 2019, they could actually start construction in the same year.

The dead hand of departmental bureaucracy must be removed. 

The Minister for Housing has repeatedly stated that money is not a problem but if that is that is true then why aren’t the council’s employment caps on planners, architects, quantity surveyors and skilled craftspersons lifted?

Councils should be able to refurbish empty social housing immediately and pass it on to another family, but currently, we don’t have the staff to do that.

Bizarrely the Department of Housing still dictates that councils must return each home to its original condition before re-allocating it. So if the old tenants put down oak floors the council has to spend time and money ripping them up and replacing them with standard flooring. 

All homes are not the same so why should all social housing be the same?  Same doors, same windows, same colours, same internal layout.

I believe this has always been an incredibly wasteful policy, but nowadays when so many new social homes are being delivered by private developers social housing is no longer standardised, so the continuation of this policy is senseless. 

Councils should be the enablers of local housing co-operatives and voluntary housing associations. Rules that inhibit local housing co-operatives in favour of the larger housing associations must also be removed.

Housing co-ops have proven they can deliver quality housing cheaply in Dublin: why on earth are we not utilising them? 

The Credit Unions also want to invest in local housing too, but the Department of Housing lacks the vision to bring them on board.

The State needs to stop blocking housing at every turn and start supporting the delivery of social and affordable housing.

Ireland did it before, in much worse economic times. We can do it again. 

Dermot Lacey is a Labour councillor for the Pembroke-Rathmines Ward on Dublin City Council.

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