Councillors Remain Concerned About Selling Land to Charity That Provides Social Housing

Councillors still have concerns about selling a plot of land to a charity that provides social housing in the city, after confusion about whether or not one or more of the flats in their complexes have been used casually for purposes other than social housing.

The CEO of the Cabhru Housing Association Services (CHAS), Miceal McGovern, said that he can see where “confusion may have arisen” around his use of apartment 74 of Father Scully House, off Mountjoy Square.

He used it briefly as an office after he became CEO, he said, by email. But there are still some outstanding questions raised by residents, councillors, and company documents.

At a December meeting, councillors said they were wary of transferring ownership to CHAS of another complex it manages, on Berkeley Street in Phibsboro, given the history of how tenants were treated earlier in the social-housing block when they were moved out and replaced with students paying market rate, pending a planned redevelopment.

And number 74 in Father Scully House “is supposed to be used for social housing, it should not be an office”, said independent Councillor Anthony Flynn, on Tuesday.

Social Homes

McGovern said that when he was hired initially as chief executive of CHAS, which is an approved housing body (AHB), there was a lack of office space at Father Scully House. At the time, apartment 74 was vacant, he says.

“The Board gave me use of the apartment as a temporary office until the offices were re-configurated,” he says. “This lasted for approximately six weeks.”

It’s a bit unclear when exactly this was – and how that tallies with a statement from his son Tighe McGovern about why the same apartment was listed as his residential address with the Companies Registration Office (CRO) for roughly three years.

Miceal McGovern’s LinkedIn profile notes that he was a consultant with CHAS from September 2016, interim CEO from June 2017, and CEO from February 2018. The CHAS website says he was appointed in July 2016.

Tighe McGovern listed apartment 74 Father Scully House as his residential address with the Companies Registration Office from December 2016.

That was basically a mistake, Tighe McGovern says. He was listed as the secretary of a company set up when his father was hired as a consultant for CHAS, to facilitate that, he said by LinkedIn message.

“The Father Scully House address was used for invoicing/paperwork purposes as it was/is his work address,” he wrote, earlier this month. Tighe McGovern has lived in Swords for years and corrected that now with the CRO, he said.

One resident, who didn’t want to be named in case it affected their tenancy, said that Miceal McGovern’s name used to be on the letterbox for the apartment. From time to time, he would until recently see McGovern’s car in the car park very late at night, he says.

McGovern said that it is “quite simply untrue” that his name was ever on the letterbox. After his six-week stint using the apartment as an office when he joined CHAS, a social-housing tenant was found for the apartment, he says.

They “remained in tenancy until early January 2020”, he said. “It is being used for social housing and is currently occupied by a resident.”

There is currently a tenancy listed in the Residential Tenancies Board’s online database for 74 Father Scully House.

Councillor Anthony Flynn still criticised the arrangement. “There shouldn’t be any private companies registered to 74 Father Scully House,” he said. “It is not an office. It is an apartment.”

Daniel O’Connor, the chair of the CHAS board, didn’t answer queries by text and by phone as to whether the board had given permission to convert the flat to an office, if so for how long, and whether McGovern’s name was on the letterbox.

Earlier Concerns

Back in October 2018, CHAS was criticised by some councillors for moving some of its elderly social-housing residents out of a complex called James McSweeney House on Berkeley Street, and moving in market-rate-paying students.

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says he plans to vote against the sale of the land to CHAS – which says it needs the title if it is to redevelop the complex – because of how the elderly tenants of Berkeley Street were treated in the past.

Tenants were upset not just about being moved on, but about the process and lack of consultation around it, Mannix Flynn says.

But McGovern, of CHAS, says they “carried out extensive consultation”.

They offered both open meetings and quarterly updates, “where all residents were invited to attend and options were offered to residents by both CHAS and independently by a local councillor who represented a resident”.

“At a public meeting a vote was taken by residents that the process as outlined by CHAS was the best option,” says McGovern. “To date, we have moved 17 residents successfully and are now engaging closely with four remaining tenants who find the disruption most difficult.”

Mannix Flynn says the process “caused huge stress and anxiety to these people”. “When I got there they were in an awful place, they were treated appallingly,” he said.

“If we dispose of this land we send a clear message to the elderly people that they don’t matter,” he said.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that moving the tenants out was necessary to rebuild the complex, which was originally constructed in 1984.

“We did have some concerns about how they were doing this and our staff did meet up with them to discuss and clarify,” said the spokesperson.

Renting the homes commercially to students was “a reasonable course of action while the de-tenanting process was continuing”, they said. They didn’t directly answer questions as to whether it was legal.

To the Full Council

In December, councillors on the council’s Central Area Committee decided to defer the sale of the land at the Berkeley Street complex.

They requested that the CEO of CHAS attend the next area meeting to answer questions.

In the January meeting, most of the 12 councillors present said they wanted more answers before they could agree to the sale.

Only independent Councillor Nial Ring and Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan spoke in favour of the sale.

It’ll be down to the full group of 63 councillors to make the call – without a recommendation from the local area committee, which they’d usually get.

Councillor Anthony Flynn says the case raises wider questions about the kind of due diligence the council should do when transferring lands to approved housing bodies.

Councillor Mannix Flynn, meanwhile, says: “If this was a nursing home HIQA would inspect it.”

Housing associations, or approved housing bodies (AHBs), are companies limited by guarantee, with charitable status, says Ken Reid, the communications manager with the Irish Council for Social Housing.

“AHBs are governed by the statutes of their constitution, memorandum and articles of association under which they are obliged to provide housing to vulnerable or disadvantaged households,” he said.

A new regulator for the sector is due to be introduced this year and they will have inspection powers, said Reid.

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

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