Without Changes, Council Not Likely to Reach Government Target for Building Social Housing in Coming Years

Dublin City Council has to build 9,087 social homes in the next five years, according to targets in the central government’s new housing strategy, Housing for All.

A tally of projects in a report last month to councillors, though, suggests that plans for just 7,137 homes are in the pipeline at the moment.

Of note is the contrast in figures for 2023.

The Department of Housing target is 1,931 new social homes but the December council report includes only 362 social homes scheduled for completion that year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says the targets for local authorities are set based on current demand for social housing and projected future demand for social housing.

Some councillors say the council could get closer to achieving its targets if the Department of Housing reformed the processes for planning, funding and procurement.

“The government is dragging us slowly through a bureaucratic nightmare,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney says delays are caused when councillors change their mind about deals to develop council-owned land, like the one for the site at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock. (The project accounts for 341 social homes.)

“We need to stop going back on decisions we make at City Council,” says Heney. “Once we agree decisions, we need to move on it.”

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the targets present a challenge but it intends to do everything it can to meet them.

Tracking Progress

Each month, council officials present a report to councillors on the housing committee, listing social-housing projects and what stage they’re at.

They may be under construction, say, or tendering for a builder, or still at an earlier design or planning permission stage.

There’s a gap between what’s in the pipeline, and what’s been announced in the targets for new-build social homes in Housing for All.

Most of the new-build homes will be delivered by councils and approved housing bodies (AHBs), said a Department of Housing spokesperson.

But the target tally also includes “Part V” homes – the 10 percent of homes it buys, or leases, in big new private developments – and homes that are built as regeneration projects after existing social homes are knocked down.

Homes simply bought by the council, what’s known as “general acquisitions”, and refurbished homes known as “voids” don’t count, said the spokesperson.

By that definition, as of December 2021, there were 7,137 “new-build” social homes in the works in the Dublin City Council area, of which 1,981 were at an early enough stage to not have an estimated completion date.

Even if the council and approved housing bodies finished every one of those homes in the next five years, it would still be well shy of the government target of 9,087.

“The ambitious scale and timeline of the delivery plan is a challenge,” said a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

The council is committed to delivering social housing, they said. “Over the course 2022 we will continue to work with all stakeholders to exploit and improve delivery mechanisms, ensure timely and quality delivery and strengthen communications on the work programme underway.”

Heney, the Fianna Fáil councillor, says the Department of Housing target is achievable and the council should focus on meeting it.

“We could do this if we use the expertise we have within the City Council,” she said, and use outside expertise, working in co-operation with approved housing bodies such as Clúid and the Ó Cualann Co-Housing Alliance and the Department of Housing.

The council is working on a housing action plan that will focus on speeding up the delivery of social housing including regeneration projects, she says.

Of the council’s 7,137 homes in the “new build” pipeline, 2,140 are in regeneration projects, which means the council plans to demolish old, often run-down, social homes and rebuild the complex.

In a general table in its December 2021 update to councillors, the council includes its own target of 8,445 homes, although it’s unclear how that figure corresponds to the detailed projects that are also listed.

The council spokesperson says it will plug the gap between its construction pipeline and its own targets with Part V housing, bought or leased in big new private developments.

The council estimates that it will get 300 new homes each year from the private sector, through Part V. The spokesperson says that is a conservative estimate based on the numbers agreed with developers and the planning permissions granted.

It will buy other homes too if they are suitable and good value for money, says the spokesperson. “All other viable options will be exploited to try and address any shortfall in delivery targets,” he says.

At the moment, the council has 389 Part V homes in its list as already approved for purchase or leasing, with delivery dates this year and next. Of those, 212 are to be leased, shows data in the report, including 55 which the council has down for delivery in 2023 on the recently up-for-sale rezoned Coolock Chivers site.

The spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that Part V homes that are leased rather than bought “will be identified separately in the delivery statistics published under Housing for All”.

Can They Speed It Up?

Under the government’s last housing strategy, Rebuilding Ireland, which ran from 2018 to 2021, the council consistently fell short of overall delivery targets.

Between January 2017 and the end of December 2020, the number of social homes in the Dublin City Council area grew 1,477, rising from 24,990 to 26,467, show figures in reports from the National Oversight and Audit Commission (NOAC).

That’s an average of 369 net a year.

Nationwide, the NOAC figures show, all the local authorities combined added 9,753 homes to their social housing stock in their areas during those four years – not that much more than Dublin City Council’s target for the next five years.

Councillors have pointed to the bureaucracy around planning and building projects, and getting funding approved from the Department of Housing, as one reason why progress is so slow.

In October 2021, a Dublin City Council report broke down the stages of approvals that would have to be gone through, if it were to develop a council site in Oscar Traynor Road site in Coolock itself.

If the council started to develop the site itself from scratch it would take it more than five years to get to the stage of tendering for a builder, the breakdown said.

If the department stripped back all the bureaucracy, the council might have a chance of reaching the targets, says Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan.

“The government are actually putting obstacles in our way,” he says. “They are giving targets to Dublin City Council knowing they will never be met and then they can blame Dublin City Council for not delivering.”

There are delays at each stage of the process, he says. The council faces delays in the four-stage approval process to get funding, says Doolan, and the council’s planning process is also slower than the private-sector process, he says.

The procurement process is unnecessarily complicated and could be reformed within EU rules, he says.

The Housing for All strategy includes “a commitment to review and streamline all approval and other pre-contract processes to accelerate the delivery of Local Authority, AHB and LDA social housing proposals and projects”, says the spokesperson for the Department of Housing.

A review group involving senior officials from local government and the public housing sectors has been established and is expected to publish a report shortly, he said.

Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey, who chairs the council’s housing committee, says that the council needs to find a way to reach the targets, which he says are not ambitious enough.

The Department of Housing needs to make decisions faster, devolve more power to councils directly and approve hiring more staff. “Quite simply the Department should allow us get on with the job,” says Lacey.

The spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that the department is working with councils to ensure that “guidelines relating to standard layouts, standard specifications and standard cost guidelines” are applied consistently which would assist in speeding up the approvals process.

Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan says the targets should be achievable. “But we spend far too much time focussing on process and not enough on actual delivery.”

Hundreds of millions of euro have been allocated to deliver housing in Dublin, he says, and councillors need to work to make sure that those homes are built.

“It works both ways, council officials have to redouble their efforts and they are going to need every support they can get from the Department, but it will also need public representatives to show leadership and actually support new housing,” says Geoghagan.

More Staff?

Dublin City Council still needs more architects and planners too, says Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor.

At the council’s January monthly meeting on Monday night, Lacey asked the Dublin City Council housing manager Coilín O’Reilly if he needed more staff to meet the targets.

On 3 December, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien had announced in a press statement that he had approved 211 new housing posts for local authorities across the country, so they can deliver the targets in Housing for All.

It didn’t include any new posts for the four Dublin councils. The Department of Housing was still looking at that, said the press release.

“Sanctioning of additional posts for the four Dublin local authorities may be made following completion of the delivery action plans,” the press release said.

At Monday’s meeting, O’Reilly said that he does not at the moment need more staff.

The spokesperson for the Department of Housing says that funding is available for councils if they need to recruit to meet the targets.

“Significant work has been undertaken to identify the additional staff resources required by local authorities to deliver the social housing targets set out in Housing for All,” he said.

– with additional reporting by Lois Kapila

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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