Earlier this year we asked our readers what issues they wanted candidates running for Dublin City Council to talk about. The supply of housing was the issue they mentioned most often.
So we’ve asked six candidates running in the 24 May election what they would do, if elected, to increase the supply of social and affordable housing in the city.
Some spoke about the need for Dublin City Council to use state lands more efficiently, either through rezoning or by building more housing on them.
Some said there was a need to stop selling off public land and start building public housing, pointing towards the “Vienna model” as a possible future for housing in Dublin.
Candidates also pointed toward the need for Dublin city councillors to work together in order to put more pressure on the central government to release funds, so that social and affordable housing could be developed.
Working the Land
There’s a lot of zoned land in council ownership, says Catherine Stocker, a Social Democrats candidate running in the Clontarf local election area (LEA).
“We should be doing two things with that land,” says Stocker: either resourcing the local authorities to build on it, or creating a national building agency.
Stocker said councillors also need to target what she sees as the government’s opposition to funding public housing. “But that’s a larger-scale endeavour, obviously.”
For the Workers’ Party’s Éilis Ryan, a sitting councillor running for re-election in the North Inner-City LEA, the single biggest issue in providing social and affordable housing is stopping the sale of public land. After that, it’s about then building public housing on that land.
Ryan wants a review of the Housing Land Initiative –a plan councillors voted through this term that said its large land banks at O’Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road should be used for 50 percent private housing, along with 30 percent social and 20 percent “affordable”.
That plan has completely failed, Ryan says. “The thinking of housing has moved on. The people that were completely opposed to cost-rental a few years ago, now believe it is the only solution,” she said.
Donna Cooney, a Green Party candidate in the Clontarf LEA, agrees, saying she would also like a review as to how the council uses its land for building homes.
“I would start a building programme with local authorities similar to the Vienna model,” she says.
It would be a cost-rental scheme, says Cooney, building on council land already earmarked for housing. The problem is getting the government to commit to it, she says.
When Ryan put forward a plan for 100-percent mixed-income public housing at O’Devaney Gardens in July 2016, other councillors at first backed her, before changing their minds about whether it was possible.
But Cooney believes councillors can exert pressure on the state to run with cost-rental.
“Housing isn’t a commodity, it is a need and we should be seeing it as such,” she says.
Mary Fitzpatrick, a candidate for Fianna Fáil in the Cabra-Glasnevin LEA, said the Vienna model is the one she thinks the state should pursue too, and that it’s been proven to work in Austria. “For people at all stages of their lives,” she says.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, who has been head of the council’s housing committee and is standing for re-election in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh LEA, says he’s standing on his record during the five-year council term that’s now winding up.
Project are in the works in his constituency, Doolan says, pointing to projects in Chapelizod and depot sites, among others. But they “haven’t reached fruition yet”.
Doolan says he would focus on cutting back red tape from the central government, which he called “a killer” – building “a unified force with other political parties and independents to bring pressure to bear on the government, to cut the red tape”.
He said they could split hairs about what percentage of social and affordable homes should be on which sites. But that they need to do is to speed up the delivery of homes, he said.
Stocker, of the Social Democrats, said she’d like to see more transparency around the government’s procurement process for social housing – to see when applications are stuck with the central government or dawdling at council level.
“So that there is a register of applications that councillors across the country have made for housing development and what stage they’re at,” she says.
At the moment, some of the council’s new social housing comes courtesy of the provision known as “Part V”. That’s when the council piggybacks off the private sector.
Developers of projects with 10 or more homes, under the law, usually have to set aside 10 percent of those homes for councils to buy as social housing – although there are some alternatives, such as transferring land, or leasing instead.
James Geoghegan, a first-time candidate for Fine Gael who is running in the Pembroke LEA, says that he sees Part V as the best means of providing social housing. He’s not too sure about the best way of providing affordable or other kinds of public housing, he says.
Geoghegan says he’s a “strong believer in Part V” and is concerned about how Part V is being managed at the moment.
When it comes to big Docklands developments, Dublin City Councilhas been taking its Part V homes off-site, in other parts of the city, because they’re too expensive for it to buy from the developers in that part of town.
Would the council’s issues around the cost of these Part V homes best be solved through investing in affordable housing and cost-rental schemes?
Geoghegan says a better solution to driving social and affordable housing would be enforcing the existing mechanisms like Part V. But he is open to looking at other schemes before making judgement, he says.
Stocker, of the Social Democrats, disagrees, saying that the ways that councils are acquiring social housing aren’t cost effective.
There’s little transparency, also, around how much developers get for Part V homes, and what the breakdown is that justifies that, she says.
She wants “greater transparency around how money is currently being spent and pushing for public building rather than private acquisitions”, she said.
Finding the Money
One of the biggest stumbling blocks when it comes to Dublin City Council building housing is funding, says Cooney, of the Green Party.
“You can see that they’re selling off land as they don’t have the resources they say to build,” says Cooney.
She’d like to see local authorities building affordable housing on Dublin City Council land, rather than selling it off.
Cooney says Dublin City Council should be looking for more ways to fund the building of houses themselves.
“Look at the money that is being borrowed from the European bank for the airport, you could do similar here,” says Cooney.
Ryan, of the Workers’ Party, believes that councillors should work together more to put more pressure on council managers to get funding to build more housing.
“A lot of councillors blame central government but have we gone enough times to the Minister for Finance looking for approval for a loan to build public housing?” says Ryan.“No, we haven’t.”
Levies and Taxes
Some councillors went beyond talking about public land, to how private land might be used to support social and affordable housing.
Fitzpatrick, of Fianna Fáil, said she would support a time-limited development levy on any new student housing, or real estate investment trust (REIT) developments, in Dublin city – with the funds used for public housing.
Some experts have said taxes can be a blunt instrument, because while they may – if safe from loopholes – bring in some money, they don’t shape what kind of homes and communities are built.
“They [levies] would be secondary interventions,” says Fitzpatrick. “The primary interventions have to be around subsidising the provision of affordable housing.”
Fitzpatrick said that she still thinks levies should be explored as the council already collects levies – for public-transport infrastructure, say.
Geoghegan of Fine Gael says that as potential councillors, they would have a duty to make sure the council’s current public homes are being managed well, and look to the revenue that comes in from them, before looking elsewhere.
One of the key jobs of councillors is “to probe the policies of Dublin City Council management”, he said.
He said he’s not sure about initiatives such as windfall taxes, as a way to dampen land prices.
“I think it could create unwanted, distorted consequences for actual investment in the development of housing,” he said. “I would be concerned regarding one-off measures like that that may sound good on paper but would effectively dry up private liquidity to create the housing that we all need.”
What Kind of Affordable?
Earlier in their now-ending five-year term, the current Dublin city councillors voted to go ahead with the Housing Land Initiative, and that 20 percent of the land should go towards “affordable” homes.
There was much debate in the chamber as to what exactly was meant by “affordable”.
Not just how much they would cost. But also whether they would be to rent, or to buy.
For now, the council has agreed with the Department of Housing that those homes on sites such as O’Devaney Gardens would be affordable purchase.
But some say they’d prefer to see affordable rental, in particular cost-rental models – as is being developed for land at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore.
Cooney, of the Green Party, says affordable-purchase housing is not something she is too keen on, as it will result in dwindling housing stock.
Instead, she would be keen for the Green Party to work with other parties and independents to push for and to seek support for cost-rental, she said.
Says Ryan, of the Workers’ Party: “Affordable purchase is a bad idea. It leads to there not being a supply of social housing and public housing down the line.”
What Ryan would like to see is local authorities building on public land for cost-rental public housing.
Stocker of the Social Democrats says that both cost-rental and purchase are needed.
Somebody seems to have decided there needs to be a shift to rental and she’s not sure that’s what people want – especially in a context where the private-rental sector dominates, she says.
“We’re being pushed in that direction, whether we like it or not, and with an entirely private model that is, essentially, quite parasitical,” she said.
A lot of the land, the big stretches of land, should be cost-rental, says Stocker. “But we would need a cost-rental model run by the council, and that has yet to be developed.”
Geoghegan isn’t sure which he prefers. “I think we should consider all these proposals as councillors.”
Editor’s Note: We didn’t have room to talk to all of the candidates for this story. But we’re keeping track of who we’ve spoken to, so we speak to different folks for future stories in this series. We’re also asking for every candidate’s views on this and the other top-10 issues readers mentioned, and you can find answers so far in our voter guide here.