Most social housing tenants are proud of their communities and are good neighbours, says Rita Fagan, a community and tenants’ rights activist.
And if someone moves into a community who is involved in criminality, drug dealing or serious anti-social behaviour, it causes major problems for everyone else, she says.
The rights of those engaged in anti-social behaviour conflict with the rights of everyone else, she says. “We have a right to live in peace on our block too.”
How to better manage cases when a household’s behaviour is destabilising communities is something that councillors are discussing at the moment.
They’re drawing up a new policy for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour in council estates and complexes.
Some councillors say the current policy can be inconsistent and too lenient, even if in the vast majority of cases, the threat of eviction is enough to put a stop to anti-social behaviour.
A draft policy under discussion suggests that anyone evicted by the council won’t be rehoused for at least two years and that the council could consult local groups before offering new tenants a home in a community.
The Rules Now
Dublin City Council’s current policy and procedures for dealing with criminality and anti-social behaviour in its estates are not working, says independent Councillor Cieran Perry.
In 2012, the supreme court found that a Dublin City Council eviction wasn’t compatible with EU human rights law mainly because the council didn’t have any independent review system, he says.
Perry says the council stopped pursuing evictions after that ruling. That meant a small number of people engaging in serious anti-social behaviour, including criminality and intimidation, were free to make life unbearable for their neighbours, he says.
Fagan says people are often afraid to make an official complaint because of intimidation. Even when they do, though, the council rarely evicts anyone, she says.
Sometimes if there is a lot of evidence of drug dealing or criminality the council will pursue an eviction, but the process is extremely slow, she says.
Perry, the independent councillor, says robust action is required to tackle this “absolutely vital issue for people living in working-class communities”.
In 2015, new legislation came into effect outlining how tenancy warnings should be handled by councils.
The council needs to gather hard evidence to put before a judge because “it is a serious action to take a home from someone”, says Perry.
He would like to see other agencies, including the Gardaí, become more involved in supporting the council.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says she was recently contacted by a mother of a 12-year-old boy who lives in a council flat complex, which is being used for drug dealing.
Dealers are coming from other parts of the city to sell drugs on the hallways of the woman’s block, she says, so the mother feels she can’t let her son go outside.
That’s been particularly stressful during lockdown, says Horner.
The council put up CCTV, but the cameras were taken down again within days, she says.
Gardaí and other public bodies could do more to help the council tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, she says. “There needs to be an integrated approach.”
Perry says there may be a lack of resources for tackling anti-social behaviour within the council too.
Neither the national government nor senior management in the council have given the issue the priority it deserves, says Perry. “They don’t seem to understand the significant damage that a single family can do to an area.”
A New Policy
At the moment, the new strategy to prevent and reduce anti-social behaviour is being drafted. It will come before each of the council’s local area committees for councillors to discuss.
Their feedback will contribute to the final strategy, which the council hopes to implement this year, says a council spokesperson.
Most people who live in social housing are responsible residents and neighbours, says the draft strategy document.
Council staff are trained to fairly investigate complaints of anti-social behaviour and to use “proactive estate-management strategies”, it says. Complaints should be investigated quickly.
“To complement the work on the ground, we will develop high-level, targeted, collaborative, multi-agency responses in areas that have borne the worst effects of drug-dealing, criminality and gangland feuding,” it says.
If the draft policy is approved as is, the council would vet potential applicants, including through Garda vetting.
The council would also consider its anti-social-behaviour policy when allocating social homes and consider consulting with local community groups before allocations.
The draft strategy outlines the possibility of consulting “recognised local community groups” before accepting a housing allocation.
It’s unclear how that will tie in with the council’s “scheme of lettings” – its system for deciding the order for who is prioritised for homes.
Perry, the independent councillor, says: “I’d be hugely supportive of that measure. I would love it if communities were involved in consultation.”
Local community leaders know who is involved in serious organised crime, he says.
Fagan, the community and tenants’ rights activist, would welcome community groups being consulted about council allocations too as used to happen in the past, she says. “If local people don’t have control of allocations they have no control of their community.”
Until a few years ago, there was an informal meet-and-greet in some council complexes, which allowed the existing community to outline rules to new tenants, she says.
The draft strategy also says the council will revise the tenants’ handbook – which it calls a legally binding contract – to provide up-to-date and easy-to-read rules.
The council will carry out an investigation into any complaint. It could decide to engage mediators in some cases or could decide to issue a verbal warning and if the behaviour continues that could be followed by a written warning and a final written warning.
If the tenant doesn’t agree with decisions to issue warnings, they can appeal and the appeal will be carried out as a new investigation by a different council official.
Eviction is the last resort and the council has to apply to the courts to carry out an eviction.
An evicted household would not be eligible to be rehoused for two years “or until such time as Dublin City Council is satisfied that they are capable of living, and agreeable to living in the community without engaging in such behaviour”, says the draft strategy.
Where Do They Go?
Both Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan and Perry say most people will stop anti-social behaviour if they think their home is at risk. “Even sending a warning is incredibly beneficial,” says Callaghan.
But if the council issues warnings and the people engaged in anti-social behaviour still refuse to comply, they will face eviction.
That leads to at least one major problem, though. “Where are they going to go?” says Horner.
Some people who are involved in serious criminality may have financial resources to house themselves. Others will likely become homeless.
“To some degree I don’t care” where they go, says Perry. “The vast majority deserve not to live under threat, intimidation and harassment.”
There is a small number of seriously dysfunctional families in the city and the HSE and social services should intervene more to help them, he says.
The council should be careful to get to the root of who is causing the problems too, says Callaghan, because sometimes very vulnerable people can have their homes taken over by criminals.
“Supports will be available to people whose homes are being used for anti-social or criminal behaviour through intimidation,” she says.