If built as planned, the cluster of houses and apartments at Shanganagh Castle in Shankill would be one of the biggest public housing projects in the Dublin area in recent years.
It’s also the largest cost-rental project brought forward so far.
But with more details to hand since Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the Land Development Agency applied for planning permission last month, several councillors have a litany of concerns.
Not least, that the housing is being built to a lower standard than they’d expect for long-term family homes.
They’re also worried that the affordable homes won’t, actually, be affordable. And that the way the homes are laid out will segregate those in different kinds of tenancies from each other – even though it’s all public housing.
Fine Gael Councillor Jim Gildea says he is objecting to the plans: “The way the Land Development Agency is doing this is wrong.”
All of the rented homes – the social homes and the cost-rental homes – are being developed under the regulations for build to rent, which allow homes to be rented out by one company to be built to different standards than those to be sold.
Gildea says these build-to-rent apartments are not designed for long-term family homes because they allow for fewer parking spaces and less storage among other issues.
The planning application includes a lengthy report to justify using those regulations for building social and affordable homes at Shanganagh – pointing to its location, demand, and speed of delivery among other factors.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council, teaming up with the Land Development Agency, has applied for planning permission to build 597 homes: 200 social, 91 affordable purchase and 306 cost rental.
Among the cost-rental homes are 29 bedsits.
“I greatly welcome the fact that we are getting homes into Shankill,” says Gildea, the Fine Gael councillor. But he is worried about space and standards in the new homes, he says.
“In the build-to-rent, there are less car parking spaces,” he says. “It allows you to get a higher density on the site, there are issues with storage that are different, the dual aspect is different, there are a number of things.”
As he sees it, build-to-rent regulations are fine but they are aimed at young couples and singles starting out in private rental.
They aren’t suitable for permanent family homes, like social homes which are “tenure for life”, he says.
The idea of the affordable cost-rental is also that the tenants will be able to live there for a long time, so that should be built under normal housing legislation too, he says.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s press office didn’t respond in time for publication to queries submitted late on Tuesday about why the Shanganagh development is being done to build-to-rent standards.
But a report in the planning file argues that it’s a good fit for the site.
The area will be serviced by the Dart, has a growing population and job opportunities and each block in the development will be managed by one company, the report says.
“The number of units proposed within the overall development seeks to accommodate higher density development on-site in accordance with national, regional and local policy,” it says.
In Shanganagh, the plans include a crèche, a playground, a gym, work spaces and a cafe as well as community rooms, lounges and a function room, says the council spokesperson.
Build-to-rent standards are for homes that are “quite a bit smaller and when combined with recent fire-safety standards, results in a significant diminution in standards”, says architect and housing commentator Mel Reynolds.
Ireland now has some of the smallest apartment sizes in Europe, he says.
“Build-to-rent has no requirement for balconies, no requirement for parking and no requirement for windows that open,” he says.
Within the development, those who live in different kinds of homes would be split into different blocks, the planning statement suggests.
The affordable homes for purchase are clustered in terraced homes and one apartment block. There’s another three blocks for the social homes, and four for the cost-rental homes, the report says.
A spokesperson for the council says its divvied up like this because of ownership.
The cost-rental homes will be owned by the Land Development Agency (LDA) while the social housing will be owned by the council, they said.
Green Party TD Ossian Smyth, who was on the council before the general election, says this means the respective owners – the council and the LDA – can contract out the day-to-day management of the blocks, including things like cleaning of communal areas.
“If the individual apartments are owned by different groups, they have to chip in and it makes it more complicated,” he says.
But divisions can lead to stigma and ideally the public housing should be integrated, he says. “You have a balance between simplifying a contractual arrangement and socially integrating people.”
A spokesperson for the council said that both the LDA and the council are “very mindful of the principles of sustainable and integrated communities”. The development has been designed to support that, they said.
All the apartments will be designed to the same standard, she said, and all amenities are open to all residents to use.
Fine Gael Councillor Kazi Ahmed says he welcomes the scheme for social and affordable housing but would like to see the different tenures mixed within the development. “I think inclusion is better,” he says.
Says People Before Profit Councillor Hugh Lewis: “As someone from a working-class council estate, I don’t think it particularly matters.”
“The problem with all this is the hypocrisy,” he says. Whenever there are plans to develop public land, the council rolls out the argument of needing to build “socially-mixed communities”, he says.
But then, when private apartments are being built, the very small amount of social housing is “usually lumped in the one corner”, says Lewis.
Within a public housing estate like Shanganagh, he thinks that issue is less relevant because tenants will be pretty similar in income and social class. “It could be an income difference of five grand each year,” says Lewis.
“It is good that the houses are being built but there are problems within the plan,” says Lewis, the People Before Profit councillor.
As with plans further towards the city centre at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, councillors are concerned about some of the figures being batted around for the rents for the cost-rental apartments.
So far councillors have only heard “ballpark figures” for what affordable means, says Lewis. “I am cautious that the LDA’s version of affordable may not be within the reach of working families.”
Estimates that he has heard have put a market-rate two-bed apartment at €1,850 per month in rent, and a cost-rental apartment of the same size could be delivered in the region of €1,350 a month, he says.