Dublin City Council is expecting a planning application soon from the Land Development Agency for hundreds of social and cost-rental homes on lands at St Teresa’s Gardens, councillors learnt at their housing committee meeting last Wednesday.

“We are hoping to get a planning application in mid-summer,” said Martin Donlon, a senior council architect, at the meeting.

Current designs for the land on Donore Avenue show 36 studio apartments, 189 one-bedroom apartments, 274 two-bedroom apartments and 44 three-bedroom apartments.

It would be 15 storeys at the highest point, said Donlon in his presentation to councillors.

Councillors welcomed the plans but – as often happens during discussions about cost-rental projects – many also raised concerns about how affordable the homes would be. Rising construction costs and possible interest-rate hikes have added to those fears.

Sinn Féin TD and housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin says that cost-rental homes developed by the Land Development Agency (LDA) are likely to be more expensive than those built by the council.

A spokesperson for the LDA says they use the same procurement processes as the council.

“We have not provided estimates of rental costs specifically for Donore,” they said. “But in general terms, our model aims for tenants to pay about a third of their net disposable income on rent.”

The Design

Alongside the homes, plans for what is currently called “the Donore Project” also show a creche, a small park, management facilities, 84 car parking spaces and 1,014 bicycle parking spaces, said Donlon. Twelve percent of the land will be used for open space, he said.

The site is on a patchworks of lands, some of which is under the remit of the Land Development Agency and some of which is owned by the developer Hines.

Donlon said he thinks Hines intends to submit a planning application for the site next door, known as the Bailey Gibson lands, this summer too. Those plans include a full-sized sports pitch, he said.

That’s been a long-time ask from sporting organisations in the Liberties, who have argued that inan area with 50,000 people there is no full-sized GAA pitch and no suitable pitches for other sports.

The council presentation also said there is “no build to rent element proposed” at St Teresa’s Gardens.

Artist’s impression of inside of an apartment of the proposed Donore Project. Image from council presentation.

That appears to indicate that the new homes would be built to the same standard as apartments sold to homeowners, which generally means they would be larger, have more storage and each home would have either a private terrace or a balcony.

Meanwhile, 42 percent of the homes would be dual aspect, meaning the rooms have windows on two sides, and 53 percent of them are larger than the minimum size allowed, said Donlon.

“It looks like a fabulous development,” said independent Councillor Cieran Perry, at the meeting.

Except for the height, he said. “Fifteen storeys in an area like this is absolutely scandalous.”

“It’s great to see the passive surveillance,” said Claire McManus, housing spokesperson for the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, who sits on the council’s housing committee.

Fifteen storeys is very tall so the quality of materials will be very important, she said. “The images look very well but it will be all about the quality and the materials to make that work.”

Donlon, the council architect, said the architects are well aware of those issues and will only be using top-quality materials.

“The building is robust and we are acutely aware of the requirements to make it that way, even from a health and safety [perspective] and future-proofing,” he said.

Across Housing

Within the scheme, 154 of the homes would be social housing, and 389 would be rented to people on low to middle incomes under a cost-rental model, the presentation said.

Cost-rental is a kind of affordable-rental housing with rents set to cover just the cost of building and maintaining the property, rather than ticking up with market rents – although in Ireland the model allows for some limited profit too.

It’s a model that is widespread in Austria’s capital, Vienna.

Ó Broin, the Sinn Féin housing spokesperson, says the Vienna Housing Model works because of how all the homes are part of the same system.

It’s integrated, he says, so that in the future, say in 30 or 40 years time once financing costs are paid down, the surplus on rents on these homes can help subsidise the maintenance of others.

In Ireland, social housing complexes are often run down because councils don’t bring in enough from the rents to maintain them to a high standard, he says.

It appears short-sighted to split the cost-rental from the social housing on St Teresa’s Gardens, a site that was owned by Dublin City Council, he says.

“Here is a way to ensure the long-term viability of and management and maintenance of public housing and the government is splitting off the more profitable part,” he says.

Dublin City Council’s cost-rental scheme at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore will someday become a major asset to the council, says Ó Broin.

In 30 or 40 years’ time, the loans the council took out to build those cost-rental homes will be paid off and the rents generating a surplus, he says.

That’s the kind of money used in Vienna to maintain the other homes, the ones that bring in less rent, he says. “The surplus on the cost-rental is recycled back into the maintenance budget to manage all of the public housing stock.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “There are no plans for cross-subsidisation in mixed tenure schemes.”

More Concerns About Affordability

The key concern raised by councillors at the meeting was whether the cost-rental homes would be truly affordable for people on low to average incomes.

“Cost rental has become a bit of an oxymoron in that we thought it was going to be affordable,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine.

Perry, the independent councillor, said that increases in interest rates could drive up the cost of borrowing and that could also affect the affordability of cost-rental schemes.

Ó Broin says construction costs are likely to be higher for LDA projects compared to council ones.

He recently looked at the LDA estimatesfor building social and affordable homes on the site of the old Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum.

That suggested it would cost from about €388,000 to €438,000 to build a two-bedroom apartment, and nearly €565,000 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Image from presentation shown at Dublin City Council.

Those construction costs are high, says Ó Broin. The LDA are using the same consultants and architects as big high-end developers, he says.

That could drive up prices compared with the council using in-house architects, he says, and the LDA will likely pay a bit more for finance than the council too.

An LDA spokesperson said that it is subject to all the same public procurement processes as other state agencies, including local authorities.

The agency “seeks to deliver projects that will deliver value for money for the public purse”, they said.

“The sort of large-scale residential projects that we are undertaking involve multi-disciplinary teams, including the use of external experts, as would also be the case were local authorities delivering similar schemes,” said the spokesperson.

The Donore Project is a collaboration between the council and the LDA, said the council’s director of housing delivery, Dave Dinnigan, at the council housing committee meeting.

“We use the word ‘cost-rental’ because we don’t want to misinform people,” he said. The costs will be based on the cost of building, finance, management and maintenance, says Dinnigan.

The council strives “to ensure that the rents that come out are well below market rates,” he said. “We just don’t know that yet because we haven’t got final costs.”

Once planning is approved, the LDA will tender for a builder, said Donlon. “Obviously there is only a limited number of the class of contractor that would be capable of delivering this type of scheme.”

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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