Meeting on "Affordable Housing" Leaves Coolock Locals with Questions

Many people arrived solo last Thursday to St Joseph’s school in Coolock.

Others came with a friend, or with kids in tow, eager to inspect proposals from developers who say they plan to build more than 350 homes on the nearby Chivers’ site.

Along the radiators inside the hall, developers Maurice and Andrew Gillick had propped up designs to show what they say the apartment buildings might look like.

Andy Kavanagh, like many others, was keen to find out how affordable these new homes would be.

“If you see a development going into your area, the development has to be for people from the area, who want to live in the area,” said Kavanagh, who was in early, and lives in the neighbourhood.

After looking over the designs, though, and quizzing the developers, many left with as many questions as when they arrived.

Off-Market Rents

Back in March, after lobbying by the Gillicks, councillors voted to rezone a large patch of abandoned land on Coolock Drive, where the old Chivers’ factory used to be, from industrial use to residential.

Platinum Land, owned by the Gillicks, plans to build more than 350 “affordable” new homes under a build-to-rent scheme on the Chivers’ site, wrote Andrew Gillick, in a recent email to councillors.

Some councillors say they’re hopeful that this much-needed housing will get built, and that Platinum Land will follow through on its proposal – despite concerns that the land might be sold on again.

“You just close your eyes and pray that there is going to be 350 units with a number of social units in there,” said local Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Paul Mahon, as he arrived at St Joseph’s on Thursday evening. “It’s a big concern that it will be flipped, though. It’s a risk.”

Mahon said he was there to suss out exactly what the Gillicks mean when they say “affordable”, and what the cost of rents might be.

Would it mean “affordable” based on what people can pay, or average wages in the area? Or would the rents be based on the cost of construction?

Mahon says that he was told by the Gillicks at a meeting of the council’s local area committee that rents could be set at 10 to 15 percent below market rates.

After the meeting, Mahon said he hadn’t got a clear answer on whether they would be “affordable” for those in the area, or – if they were going to be metered off market rents – what market rents that means.

“Are they going on the market value in [Coolock] or market value across the city, the average?” said Mahon.

Local resident Noeleen Collins had similar concerns. She was worried that it would be a rental-only development, and sceptical that the Gillicks could deliver on affordability. “We don’t have affordable rental,” she said.

While in 2016, the Department of Housing promised an affordable-rental scheme with at least 2,000 properties for those on low or moderate incomes by 2018, that hasn’t happened yet.

Plans are pushing ahead for a pilot cost-rental scheme of 50 homes near Sandyford in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has also pointed to the proposed South Docks project in Cork. Under that scheme, in exchange for €15.5 million in funding through the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) for parks and roads, the developers would lease 40 apartments to Cork City Council for 25 years “using a rent credit to provide affordable rents”.

In Coolock

“At the end of the day we want the community on board,” said Maurice Gillick, on Thursday evening.

But Gillick couldn’t say whether there was a particular model for affordability that Platinum Land was working off at the moment.

Platinum Land is willing to increase the number of social housing units beyond the 10 percent usually expected as part of big developments, though, said Gillick.

“We are trying to lease the entire development to the government,” he said. “We’re currently in negotiations with them.”

Gillick later clarified, by email, that Platinum Land is in early stage discussions with the Housing Agency to progress the development as an “Enhanced Housing Scheme”, which “would entail leasing some or all of the development to the government”.

The development will be a mixture of studio, one-bed, two-bed, three-bed and four-bed apartments, as well as “some OAP” accommodation, Gillick said, on Thursday.

Platinum Land has yet to come up with an exact number of homes, he said. Nor could the Gillicks allay local fears about the cost of renting under their proposed scheme.

Vivian Byrne and Denise Doyle, who live in the area, both arrived hoping to find out exactly what “affordable” meant, they said. They left with their questions unanswered.

They also asked whether the development would be mixed-tenure, including social tenants, private renters, and owner-occupiers. And said they were concerned about there being too many families renting with young children in the area.

Kavanagh also left with his questions around rental prices unanswered by the Gillicks. “I don’t think [they’re] up to speed with the figures themselves,” he said.

He said he’d like a provision whereby the Gillicks have to hire a certain percentage of the construction team locally. Coolock is a “trades area”, he said.

“But they couldn’t even tell me how many units they’re proposing to put in there at the moment,” said Kavanagh.

Others raised issues around traffic impact.

The Longer, the Better

“Obviously we have to finance this,” said developer Maurice Gillick on Thursday evening, as his brother Andrew talked locals through six cardboard development designs. “We haven’t even done the finances on it yet,” he said.

The Gillicks have worked on numerous developments in London. But they couldn’t point to a project similar to this proposed redevelopment of the Chivers’ site.

They say that they aim to kick-off construction in late 2018. That’s ambitious, said Maurice, on Thursday evening, “but it is all dependent on the planning process”.

There are no other developers working with Platinum Land Limited on this project, said Gillick. But there are “about 30 people […] subcontractors […] working on it at the moment, architects, all the various engineers”, he said.

In a previous email to councillors, Andrew Gillick said that a major benefit of the redevelopment would be security of tenure. Tenants would be given “long” tenures, he wrote, of five to 10 years.

“But we’re looking for even longer. The longer, the better for us,” said Maurice, on Thursday evening. That could mean up to 20- to 25-year leases, he said.

Local resident Aisling Hedderman, who is also a member of North Dublin Bay Housing Crisis Committee, left Thursday’s meeting sceptical.

“One of my big concerns is that it’s a private development,” she said. That tends to mean insecure tenancy, said Hedderman.

She, too, said she could not get a straight answer about the costs of renting the new apartments or what the Gillicks meant by affordability. “This is a community that really needs social housing and 35 units ain’t going to make a dent,” she said.

She says that she aims to talk to others locally, to note concerns, and to set up another meeting with the Gillicks in the near future.

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