New plans for the development of a council-owned site at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock could see the resurrection of a deal with the developer Glenveagh to build 853 homes with parks, cycle tracks and community space.
The deal, rejected by councillors last year, would have meant that Glenveagh could have sold half the homes on the council-owned land privately, and the other half back to the council for use as state-subsidised “affordable purchase” homes. But a majority of councillors say they want it all used for social and affordable homes instead.
Last week, a Dublin City Council report presented to the housing committee said that if councillors change their minds and agree to sell the site to Glenveagh after all, the housing built on it could be 40 percent social homes, 40 percent “Cost/Affordable Rental” and 20 “Affordable Purchase” homes.
The new plan is likely to be presented to the full council at its next monthly meeting, on 1 November.
The proposal was welcomed by councillors from Fine Gael, who voted to support last year’s proposal. It had support from Fianna Fáil councillors, who were split on last year’s. And two councillors from the Labour Party, which mostly opposed last year’s, said they would probably support this deal.
But the future of the site is far from settled. Many of the 63 members of Dublin City Council are still likely to oppose the deal, amid concerns about the affordability of the “affordable” homes and the possibility that Glenveagh could change the plans after the council transfers ownership of the land to it – as has happened with developer Bartra at the O’Devaney Gardens site.
What Is the Plan?
Most councillors were happy with the designs presented by Glenveagh last September, which show apartments and houses built around a park, with a lake, cycle tracks, an orchard, nature trails and community allotments.
The buildings would include community space, a creche and there are plans for a walking route to a new gaelscoil.
The plans had been developed over a number of years, but last November councillors refused to sell the land.
Most of them wanted the council to develop the site itself to provide social and affordable homes. They formed a working group, which agreed that the site should be used to provide 40 percent social homes, 40 percent homes that could be affordably rented, and 20 percent homes that could be affordably bought.
At a meeting of the housing committee on Wednesday 13 October, Dublin City Council official Martin Donlon outlined a new proposal.
The Department of Housing would fund the purchase of 40 percent of the homes for the council to use as social housing, he said.
Glenveagh is in advanced discussions with a housing charity or approved housing body, which would take on 40 percent of the homes as cost-rental.
The last 20 percent could be sold affordably too – by tapping into increased government subventions, he said.
If the council was to build the entire development itself they would have to apply to the Department of Housing to fund the park and community facilities, said Donlon. “That has proven difficult in our experience in the past.”
Glenveagh would provide all the amenities as part of this deal and it will also give the council €14 million for the land, he said. The money will be split evenly between delivering community, recreational amenities locally and clearing some council debts, he said.
If the councillors approve the Glenveagh deal, the developer has said it would file a planning application within six months, said Donlon.
“Any further delays on this will probably kill the project – the Glenveagh deal,” said Dave Dinnigan, director of housing delivery.
If the council was to build the homes itself it would take five years to appoint a new contractor, says Donlon.
The reportcontains a detailed breakdown of the public procurement timeline and provides an insight into why Dublin City Council housing projects are so slow to get off the ground.
The Lord Mayor, Labour Party Councillor Alison Gilliland, said that the timeline for the council to build a development itself was “absolutely ridiculous”.
Questions About Affordability
The affordable-purchase homes would be subsidised with up to €100,000 from the government, said Donlon.
That subsidy was €50,000 in last year’s deal, so the increase should help to bring down the price compared to what was mooted then.
The current estimated purchase prices for the affordable purchase homes are €204,000 to €238,000 for a one-bed, €227,000 to €284,000 for a two-bed and €250,000 to €306,000 for a three-bed, says the report.
The rents for the cost-rental homes, “cannot really, truly be determined at this stage”, said Donlon.
Estimates indicate that rents could be around €940 per month for a studio, €1,275 for a one-bed and €1,500 for a two-bed, according to the report.
Those prices aren’t much higher than the estimated costs of council-built cost-rental homes elsewhere, said Donlon.
The council expects a two-bed cost-rental home at the planned development at St Michael’s Estate on Emmett Road in Inchicore to cost around €1,400 per month, he said. (That’s also up from the€1,300 it was estimating in December 2019.)
The price of renting the cost-rental homes laid out in the plan for the Oscar Traynor Road site is not affordable and the model being proposed is not sustainable, said Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker, speaking at the housing committee meeting.
She said it was “frankly ridiculous” to suggest that paying €940 per month to rent a studio apartment is affordable. That requires an income of €3,000 a month, she said.
The state subsidy of €100,000 for each affordable purchase home is also not sustainable, she said. “We have to draw a line in the sand somewhere on a model that doesn’t work.”
Said Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan: “I don’t know what alternative proposals she has to reduce rents.”
The suggested cost-rental prices are “a massive reduction on market rents”, which are more than €1,800 per month for a two-bed apartment in Dublin, he said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Micheál MacDonncha said by phone on Monday that he has concerns about the price of both the cost-rental and affordable purchase homes on the site.
The party will have to consider all the details of the proposal before making a decision on how to vote, he said.
Gilliland, the Lord Mayor, said she was reluctantly inclined to back the deal, as it would create more “affordability for more people than our current market system does”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that it is willing to fund homes at Oscar Traynor Road using its existing schemes.
The cost-rental equity loan is a long-term fixed-interest loan for up to 30 percent of the capital cost of a property, he says.
“Cost rents are calculated based on the cost of provision, financing, management and maintenance of the individual property modelled over a minimum period of 40 years,” says the Department of Housing spokesperson. “They are not derived from open market rents.”
But the department will assess proposed cost-rental schemes to see whether they come in at least 25 percent under market price, so it can target state subventions to where they will be effective, he says.
The rent for the two-bed homes mentioned in the report is around 25 percent below the average current market rent.
However, according to the latest figures from theResidential Tenancies Board,the average one-bedroom apartment in Dublin rents for €1,475.
A 25 percent discount from that would be €1,106, whereas the rent mentioned in the report for a one-bed apartment is €1,275, raising questions as to what future market rents may be and whether they would qualify as cost rental.
Also in the Mix
There are a few other issues still in the mix, including the mix of types of homes.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney said she supports the deal with Glenveagh. But she wants a third option to be presented to councillors to change the mix to 33 percent social housing, 33 percent cost rental and 33 percent affordable purchase, she says.
She has concerns about the entire cost-rental model, which hasn’t been tried and tested, she says. “We have absolutely zero experience in the cost-rental,” says Heney. “I think it’s a mistake to put all of our eggs in one basket on this amazing huge site.”
“People want to buy their own homes,” says her party colleague, Eimear McCormack.
Some families are living doubled up with grandparents in order to save to try to buy a house, she says.
Several councillors said the tenure mix had already been agreed upon following months of discussion in the working group.
Gililland, the Labour councillor and Lord Mayor, said it was “disingenuous” of councillors to try to open up that debate again.
Green Party Councillor Hazel Chu has a different set of concerns. She said by phone on Friday that she is not inclined to support the deal as it stands.
There are issues with affordability, she says but there is also the possibility that the developer could change the plans after the land is transferred, as happened on another large council-owned site recently.
The councillors are seeking legal advice in relation to significant changes to plans at O’Devaney Gardens in Stoneybatter.
“There are lessons to be learned from O’Devaney,” she says. The council should retain ownership of the land, and ask Glenveagh to build the homes, she says.
Why wouldn’t private financers be willing to fund government-backed projects? she asks. “It is done in other countries and I can’t see why it can’t be done here?”
The Minister for Housing, Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien, says he wants the site developed quickly, says Chu. “Well then he needs to pony up.”