Unreal estate

Priced Out of Docklands Developments, Council Looks for Its Social Housing Elsewhere

When developers build 10 or more homes in one spot, they’re usually asked to sell 10 percent on to the council for use as social housing.

Dublin City Council’s preference has been, it says, for those social homes to be in the same blocks or estate as the rest that are being built.

Now, though, the council looks set to change that for the Docklands – one of the most expensive parts of the city.

There are 11 places in the Docklands where developers are building homes and the council will be owed social housing or land, says a report from Executive Housing Manager Anthony Flynn. Of these, the council “is currently in negotiations with five developers”.

But because the Docklands is such a pricey area, the cost of buying homes in these new developments there would “well exceed” the Department of Housing’s cost ceilings for what would be value for money, Flynn’s report says.

So the council must now look away from the sites where the housing is going up to get those social housing units, the report says. “Some off-site units have been identified in the electoral area and deposits have been paid to acquire these units.”

Dublin City Council wouldn’t give details for how much it would have cost to buy homes on the sites in the Docklands, where the “off-site units” are, how much they will cost, or which Docklands sites they correspond with.

“This information is confidential and commercially sensitive at this stage,” said a council press officer, by email.

How Far Afield?

According to the report, the council wants to look beyond the South East Area of the city – which stretches from Irishtown and Ringsend, across Pearse Street and the south-east inner city, to Rathmines and Terenure – and look in the Central Area, too.

The Central Area covers a swathe of the city from Grangegorman and North Wall eastwards to Ballybough and East Wall, taking in the north city centre.

Letting developers give the council housing in this wider area would “increase options available for off-site delivery”, the report says.

In other parts of the Dublin area, some have raised questions about the costings put forward by developers for the homes they are required to sell to councils under Part V. There are concerns that councils risk paying pumped-up prices.

And for years, some Dublin city councillors and local community workers have been raising the alarm about affordability in the Docklands.

Earlier this year, amid debate over the balance between office spaces and homes in the Docklands, independent Councillor Christy Burke said he was worried that – despite the fact that land was sold relatively cheap by NAMA to private developers – developers would charge large amounts to the council for social housing.

As the council report – which is due for discussion at an upcoming housing committee – notes, Part V of the Planning Act means developers must give up to 10 percent of land zoned for residential use in new housing developments for social and affordable housing. But that can be done in different ways.

Usually, the developer will build out the site and the council will buy 10 percent of the homes for social housing. But if the council agrees, the developer can give it land or housing somewhere else instead, or lease housing, or use a mash of these options.

Shaping the City

The council’s policy is “to acquire units onsite in the first instance”, said a press officer, by email. “It is only in exceptional circumstances that an off-site proposal will be considered.”

The council must make sure its Part V agreements “constitute the best use of financial resources available and that unit sizes meet social housing requirements”, they said.

“There are many diverse views around the issue of social mix, our priority is to get more housing for households on our waiting lists,” said the press officer. (According to council data, Dublin City Council got 25 Part V units in 2016, and 56 in 2017.)

Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne says that unless the costs it is quoted are “mad figures”, the council should stick to a policy of haggling for social-housing units on-site.

“The question I will be asking when it comes up is, very simply, ‘What are the figures?'” he said. “What is the actual cost of having those on-site?”

The benefit of the Part V rule comes not only from the additional social housing, but also from the way it is distributed throughout private developments, Dunne said. So the homes are not all hidden away in a single block at the back of an estate.

“The policy is to have […] to use that term, peppered developments,” said Dunne. “That’s one of the advantages of Part V, to ensure that policy is put into practice.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, who is also head of the council’s housing committee, said he would prefer to see the council acquire Part V homes on-site, too. “We don’t want to create ghettos of private housing and ghettos of social housing,” Doolan said.

Some housing experts argue that concentrations of social housing are actually not a problem. Instead, it’s the the ways social homes are allocated, and the income thresholds for who can live in them, which can create unsustainable communities.

Doolan says he is pragmatic, so he would bend if the council could get more homes off-site than it would if it took them all on-site. “If that’s an option, I would consider it. But it needs to be as near as possible,” he said.

“We pay for these units, it’s not a freebie,” said Doolan.

Lois Kapila portrait
Lois Kapila

Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's managing editor and general-assignment reporter. Want to share a comment or a tip with her? Send an email to her at info@dublininquirer.com.

 

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