Council Briefs: On Rent Arrears, Inviting More Diversity and Councillors Working from Home

On Rent Arrears

As of 12 October, a little more than €36.6 million is owed to Dublin City Council in social housing rent arrears, says a recent report to the council’s finance committee.

According to the report, of roughly 24,800 council tenancies, almost 60 percent are in arrears.

Most tenants in arrears have a debt of less than €500, it says. While 37 tenancies owe €27,000 and upwards.

The main causes of arrears, according to the report, are tenants not declaring increased household income to the council, or not paying the weekly rent charge.

The average weekly rent for those in social housing is €70.41, or €281 .64 per month.

Another factor contributing to council arrears include the council’s policy to apply retroactive debts, when “undeclared income is brought to our attention,” says the report.

Some arrears may be reduced or eliminated, however, once households which haven’t submitted income details on time do so, as the council may then adjust what’s owed.

Roughly 64 percent of the total owed to the council is for accounts that have been in arrears for more than 52 weeks. Those tally up to €23.6 million.

The lack of visibility in the community as a result of house calls being suspended due to Covid-19 was also a contributory factor in the rise of rent arrears, says the report.

This year sees an 11.5 percent increase on last years arrears of €32.4 million, which was the largest sum ever owed to Dublin City Council.

No tenancy warnings were issued by the council for six months from March 2020, due to the eviction ban. The report says these warnings were not issued as they expire after one year.

In 2019, one tenant was evicted, In 2020, one tenant has been evicted so far too.

Inviting More Diversity

Dublin City Council has asked for €135,000 from the Department of Local Government to funnel into projects to try to increase diversity and gender equality among candidates in the 2024 local elections.

The proposal, which was agreed at October’s protocol committee, includes projects to boost voter turnout, encourage women and people from diverse communities to participate in government, and support these groups once in government.

Preference will be given to council submissions that prioritise proposals that can start towards the end of the year and run for 24 months, says a letter sent to the council by the department.

As part of the proposal, the council have asked for €60,000 to run a commemorative series celebrating the first female Lord Mayor of Dublin, Kathleen Clarke.

That series would include an exhibition looking at the role of women in government in Dublin over the centuries, and a programme of talks by current women councillors that could start in January 2021.

According to the report, the council want to target areas with low voter turnout, like the north inner-city, by putting banners outside schools and posters in international shops and cafes to increase awareness of voting rights. That would cost €10,000, it says.

A further €10,000 is being sought by the council to raise awareness and engagement with homeless voters through partnerships with NGOs and to develop a social media campaign to promote council material in different languages such as Polish and Moldovan, says the report.

“The department have acknowledged our application and a response is expected in a reasonably short time,” says Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney.

Working from Home

Councillors are expected to vote on changes to standing orders – the rules and procedures that govern council meetings – at November’s monthly council meeting, so they can attend statutory meetings and vote remotely.

Until recently, for some meetings, such as the monthly council meeting, a minimum number of councillors have had to be physically present by law.

Fianna Fáil Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien signed an order on 20 October 2020 so that act can be amended.

One change proposed by Dublin City Council’s protocol committee is to allow “remote-hybrid council meetings”. Ones with some councillors present, and others tuned in remotely, with them all counting towards that minimum number.

If a member’s internet connection fails during a statutory vote, it’s up to the councillor to indicate to the meeting how they would like to vote on a certain issue, says the proposal.

The amendments were welcomed by Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney. Some councillors feel uncomfortable in a room with lots of people in light of Covid-19, she says.

Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey says the amendments are a good thing overall. “But we have to avoid a situation where remote meetings become the norm because in-person attendance is still important for discussions or clarifications that aren’t so clear.”

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Stephanie Costello: Stephanie Costello is the managing editor and covers the jobs beat at Dublin Inquirer. To get in contact with her, you can email her on [email protected]

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