Council Briefs: New Traveller Accommodation, Affordable Housing Priorities, and Insulating Council Homes

It was “astonishing” that no new homes were built for Travellers in the city, under the last Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP), said People Before Profit Councillor Hazel De Nortúin, at Monday’s monthly meeting of Dublin City Council.

“I know that there were some refurbishments and rebuilds and a lot of unneeded money spent on sanitation units, but that’s going to be left in the past,” said De Nortúin, a member last term of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC).

Councillors were being asked to vote to adopt the next programme, which will run from July 2019 until June 2024.

Dublin City Council says they plan to spend €35.3m on Traveller accommodation projects in the coming years, a council report says.

Under the TAP for 2015 to 2018, council officials and councillors had promised to oversee the construction of 41 new homes. According to Monday’s report, none of these were built.

However, there were 29 sanitation facilities (toilets and showers) built, five day-houses built, five home rebuilds and several refurbishments. Day houses sit in caravan bays and provide showering facilities and kitchen areas.

De Nortúin highlighted just how many Traveller families were homeless and in emergency accommodation, according to the report before councillors: “104 families are living in emergency accommodation,” she said, reading the report.

There are 802 other families living in the city, in a range of accommodation, from halting sites, to group-housing schemes, other social homes, private accommodation and unauthorised sites, said the report.

The 104 homeless families account for roughly 9 percent of all families in emergency accommodation, while Traveller children make up 11 percent of all children in emergency accommodation, the report says.

That’s “distinct disproportionality” given Travellers make up approximately 1 percent of the population nationally, says the report.

Plans for the new term include 47 new homes, seven new bays, and the refurbishment of 92 day-houses, at a cost of €19.1 million.

The lack of housing provided by the last TAP forced Travellers into overcrowded conditions, with people living in the same home as members of extended family, the report says.

This could lead to fire hazards, unnecessary accidents, and conflicts with residents in the area, the report says.

It can also be used as a justification for evictions by local authorities, which have done fire-safety audits on Traveller accommodation since the tragic Carrickmines fire in 2015, the report says.

Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan said at the meeting that there is “terrible institutional discrimination” against Travellers.

Housing was one area the council could help tackle this, he said.

Three times during the meeting, Fianna Fáil Mayor Paul McAuliffe had to ask the chamber to remain quiet, as councillors engaged in private conversations.

“This is a very important issue and I think it should command as much respect as previous items,” Doolan said.

Doolan said he hoped the council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee for this term would include somebody to represent Travellers.

It should be central to the committee’s work, he said. “Traveller accommodation shouldn’t be left as an afterthought.”

De Nortúin said she wanted the TAP to be included in the Dublin City Development Plan, which sets guidelines on how and where the city will be developed from 2016 to 2022.

Tony Flynn, council housing manager, said the report for the “very, very ambitious programme” was drawn up after consultations with the LTACC and the housing committee, and submissions from Traveller advocacy groups.

Affordable Housing Priorities

Councillors argued for an hour and a half about how positions on boards should be carved up at the outset of Monday’s monthly meeting – which ran down the clock and meant they didn’t vote on several agenda items.

Among these, a revised report setting out who should be eligible to buy affordable council homes, under the affordable-purchase scheme that the state is currently rolling out, bit by bit.

The council report on the issue, and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, have both said that in accordance with the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, all housing authorities had to make a “scheme of priority” before 18 June 2019.

The council meeting Monday, however, ran overtime without any agreement. Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe, the lord mayor, said the item would be put on the agenda for the next council meeting, on 1 July.

The issue that still needs to be resolved is that there’s a cascade of priorities that the council has to work through if there are more applicants than homes, once the scheme starts.

At the moment, councillors, council officials, and officials in the Department of Housing are wrangling over some of the details – in particular, within how wide an area they should consider students, or jobs, as eligible for the scheme.

In other words, should they prioritise, if it comes down to that, those working or studying really close by, or further away, too?

At the May council meeting, councillors agreed that those who study within 50km, or work within 100km, should fall within the net, to make it as inclusive as possible.

In the revised draft scheme circulated at Monday’s meeting – after a trip to Custom House and Minister Murphy’s desk – the distances had been changed to 30km for education and 50km for employment.

“That scheme was forwarded to the department and the minister for consideration,” said council Housing Manager Tony Flynn. “The department and the minister have advised the council that they’re not in a position to approve the draft scheme in its current format.”

“Regulations require some priority to be given to persons who have children in education or who are in employment in their administrative area,” he said.

For these new distances, 30km for education brings the catchment area up as far as County Louth and Newbridge in County Kildare and down past Greystones in County Wicklow, Flynn said.

Meanwhile, 50km for employment goes up as far as Ardee and Dunlear in County Louth, Kinnegad in County Westmeath and down as far as Aughrim in County Wicklow, Flynn said.

At this stage in the meeting, the lord mayor, Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe, reminded councillors that they had six minutes to decide whether to approve the scheme – so that it could be sent back to Minister Murphy.

Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan also stressed the importance of having the scheme approved.

“Unless we get an approved scheme, we won’t be able to dispose of affordable units. The Minister will agree to the compromises we’ve proposed here, but members have to adopt it,” he said.

No such luck, as councillors disagreed with the amended distances.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said their previous proposals had tried to be as “inclusive as possible”, particularly for people working outside of Dublin.

“We were particularly conscious of people who had lost their jobs during the last period of high unemployment and moved to jobs, perhaps down the country,” she said.

“That would have led them to be travelling up to 200km back and forth to those jobs but still trying to live in the city,” she said.

“For the minister to come back and to reduce them back to 50km, is a little bit concerning for the current circumstances that a lot of people find themselves in,” said Gilliland.

She wanted to see this distance for employment raised to 100km, she said.

Independent Councillor Nial Ring took issue with the radius shown on the maps.

“I just want to know where the radius was taken from,” he said. “I know Dunleer is 60km. Enfield is 40km.”

“It doesn’t add up. Dunleer is certainly more than 50km,” he said.

Labour Councillor Kevin Donoghue said he wanted to see the education distance increased, as students who hope to qualify for the SUSI monthly grant must live 45km from their chosen institution in order to get a “non-adjacent” rate of the grant, which is worth more than an adjacent rate.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Tom Brabazon said he would support the draft scheme, though he resented that the distances had been changed.

“The only power we as councillors had was in relation to various distances. I want to see affordable housing, but I think this is two fingers by the minister to the local government again,” he said.

Insulating Council Homes

At Monday’s meeting, Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne wanted to know the state of play with council plans to improve energy efficiency in its housing stock.

In particular, has the Department of Housing given the promised funding for the next stage of its energy efficiency and retrofitting programme? he asked.

In phase one of the scheme, the council upgraded social homes to improve wall insulation, roof and wall ventilation and draught-proofing, and provided lagging jackets, which insulate water tanks.

Phase two involves external wall insulation, or protective cladding around homes, and adding uPVC plastic frames around windows, where needed, to keep in heat.

It’ll cost somewhere around €80 million, said Dunne. The aim is to reduce energy consumption and costs.

Brendan Kenny, the council’s head of housing, said they hadn’t gotten the funding from the Department of Housing yet for the second phase of works. “We’re still waiting on that.”

Part of the deal is that the council matches any funding from the department, he said. “We’re still spending that money as we speak and we’ll continue to do that around the city. I’d like to get overall funding, we still haven’t got that yet.”

Independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly said families in Finglas, one of the areas she represents, were not getting updated insulation.

“Some of them are being excluded at the moment because they might have got a minor type of insulation before. I think it’s really unfair on those families that are losing out,” she said.

Dunne said it was “shocking” that they haven’t gotten the money through yet.

He put forward a motion that Fianna Fáil Mayor Paul McAuliffe write to the department to request the funding. That motion was passed.

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Author:

Aura McMenamin: Aura McMenamin is a city reporter covering the south side of the city, and jobs. You can reach her at aura@dublininquirer.com.

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