A Glimpse of the New Housing Committee
What’s the new head of Dublin City Council’s housing committee going to focus on? At Monday’s meeting, Labour’s Alison Gilliland, who has taken up the position, told councillors what she sees as the top priorities.
One barrier to tackling the affordable housing crisis is the lack of “multi-annual funding” and autonomy granted to the council to make quick decisions around how to use land, she said.
At the moment, the council has to follow a long project-approval process, which demands Department of Housing sign-off at several stages.
Many projects started early in the last five-year council term are still in the pipeline, she said. “It is so so slow, and that is one of our biggest challenges that we have to bring to central government and to the minister.”
Another big challenge is reducing the council’s use of Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), a subsidy to landlords for tenants on low incomes.
In 2018, Dublin City Council added 1,186 homeless HAP tenancies – well above the 585 that was its target, according to a council report. (People on homeless HAP get a bigger payment than those on mainstream HAP.)
It also added 1,023 mainstream HAP tenancies – well below the target of 2,040. And it added 302 HAP tenancies that were people transferring over from the Rent Supplement programme, which was well below the 2,068 expected in targets.
The council report shows HAP targets holding steady for 2019 to 2021, adding: 1,276 homeless HAP tenancies and 739 mainstream HAP tenancies, each year, and with 1,520 tenancies switching from Rent Supplement to HAP.
But targets should be going down, said Gilliland. “Not staying the same.”
It’s a waste of money, giving subsidies to private landlords when the council should be building homes, she says. To do that, the council also needs to make sure it’s hired enough staff to ramp up building, said Gilliland.
Using Council Land
Dublin City Council’s head of housing, Brendan Kenny, says he expects to reveal the name of the council’s “preferred bidder” later this month for developing housing at the O’Devaney Gardens site.
The council plans to use its big plot of land at O’Devaney Gardens for roughly 580 homes. The current plan is for 30 percent social housing, 20 percent affordable purchase, and 50 percent private housing.
In September, councillors should get to vote on whether to press ahead with the scheme, under what’s known as a “section 183”, said Kenny.
That section covers the sale of public land. “We don’t see this as a disposal to a private developer,” said Kenny. “We see this as a different way of doing the development.”
How does the Dublin Agreement – the pledges made by the council’s ruling coalition – fit into this?
In that agreement, councillors said they would “reject any selling off of publicly owned land to private developers within the city boundaries” unless there was clear benefit to the council that outweighed what would be foregone.
Kenny said officials were “concerned” that the agreement would scupper the O’Devaney Gardens plan, and the similar plan for a council site at Oscar Traynor Road: “If it’s rejected, well then the whole project is dead in the water.”
After the meeting, Gannon of the Social Democrats said he regretted voting last term to go ahead with the Housing Land Initiative, a council programme to develop some of its biggest land banks in partnership with developers and using it for a mix of private, social, and affordable homes.
As the end of the last council’s five-year term drew closer, several councillors cooled to policies of private housing on public land.
But it isn’t the intention of the Dublin Agreement, as Gannon understands it, to undo what was decided last term – but to plot a path going forward. Unravelling past votes, he says, would be “undemocratic”.
Dibs on Affordable Housing
Councillors voted to agree some of the details of who’ll be eligible to buy affordable housing in the city, once a full scheme is in place.
But they ad-libbed too, adding a provision that was “for people who have been pushed out of the city, particularly because of the housing crisis”, said People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh, at the council’s meeting Monday.
Under the scheme, if there are more applicants than homes, a cascade of priorities kicks in to decide who should get first dibs. It takes into account whether a member of a household applying lives within a certain area, or studies or works within a certain distance.
Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy rejected earlier, longer distances set by councillors and said they have to be smaller: 30km for education and 50km for jobs.
Councillors on Monday voted those new distances through – but added their own criteria in an amendment signed by councillors from all parties and an independent.
Qualifying households may also show local connections such as family association, or a previous job, community contribution or residence in an area, or that they’ve accepted a job offer in an area, the amendment said.
The council’s director for housing delivery, Tony Flynn, said the council could write to the minister and ask him to add this extra group of households. “That’s all I can say.”
Dublin City Council isn’t an outlier in taking issue with the scheme, or failing to pass this portion of it. Just 15 of 31 local authorities had given final approval to schemes of priority by 18 June, the deadline in legislation for councils to “make a scheme”, a Department of Housing spokesperson said last week.
The department spokesperson said that, because all 31 had earlier submitted draft schemes before then, they counted that as having “made a scheme”. So, they didn’t break any laws by missing the 18 June deadline, they said.
How will the Department of Housing respond to Dublin city councillors’ attempt to add to it? “No formal correspondence has been received from [Dublin City Council] in respect of this,” said a spokesperson, on Tuesday.
– with additional reporting by Aura McMenamin