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In December 2021, a Dublin City Council report said that 846 new-build social homes would be completed in Dublin city in the first half of 2022.
That figure includes homes directly built by Dublin City Council and housing charities, as well as new social housing built as part of private developments.
In reality, the total figure of new-build social homes completed in the city in the first half of 2022 was 61, according to a tally of figures in a July 2022 report.
That’s about 7 percent of the council’s target.
A spokesperson for the council said “Dublin City Council is examining ways of increasing delivery over the lifetime of the [Housing for All] plan and we are confident the Department [of Housing]’s targets will be met.”
What’s the Hold-Up?
There are homes on the list that were due to be handed over in the first half of this year that are now in the final inspection stages, according to a council spokesperson. Like, 21 homes at Moss Street and 15 homes at Charlemont.
But the timelines have moved much further back for others. Among the homes that the council had earlier said would be finished in the first half of the year are four rapid-build projects across the city.
Those include 261 homes in schemes on Bonham Street and Cork Street in the Liberties, Springvale in Chapelizod and Bunratty Road in Coolock.
At the end of last year, the council’s estimate was for those to be done by the second quarter of this year, but that’s been pushed back in a more recent report to the second quarter of next year.
A council spokesperson said the timelines in the reports are estimates rather than contractual completion dates.
“It is the contractor’s responsibility to plan, resource and manage the construction programme and co-ordinate delivery of the project,” they said, and the contractor is reporting the current completion dates.
The council “will continue to monitor progress relative to the contractor’s reported completion dates in order to keep affected parties and stakeholders informed”, the spokesperson said.
Speaking more generally, the council spokesperson said: “Completion delays are always a cause for concern.”
But construction projects in the city centre are often high-density apartment developments on sites that have been built on before, she says, and those sites can encounter problems like “unrecorded utilities that need to be diverted, archaeology etc”.
Projects due for completion in 2022 were also affected by the Covid-19 shutdowns, she says. “Contractors are also reporting that construction inflation has impacted on their ability to resource projects.”
Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney says the council encounters a range of different issues that hold up the delivery of social housing.
Two large formerly council-owned sites are delayed at the moment, she says. There was a court case about O’Devaney Gardens in Stoneybatter and councillors changed their minds about plans for Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock, says Heney.
(O’Devaney Gardens was also delayed when the developer changed the plans to include more homes.)
“There is a multiplicity of problems,” Heney says. But “there is no issue around funding. The money is there.”
Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey, who chairs the council’s housing committee, says that money is a major problem, and the main factor delaying the council building of social homes is the four-stage approvals process.
Also, “the nonsense that we have to go out to public procurement for everything needs to be scrapped”, he says.
The tender process is so strict that the council ends up having to work with builders it has had problems with in the past, says Lacey.
“Decision making has to be restored to the council on the ground and if the Department (of Housing) wants to have spot checks let them do that,” he says.
The Department of Housing should urgently drop the requirement that each social housing scheme is an original design, he says.
That requirement, together with the bureaucracy involved in procurement, makes it impossible for the council to scale up delivery. “It’s a totally bananas system, it makes no sense whatsoever,” says Lacey.
In January, a review group involving senior officials from local government and the public housing sector published a report recommending some changes to the approvals process.
Meanwhile, the Dublin City Council spokesperson says that using a competitive dialogue process to negotiate with developers who already have planning permission could help to speed up the delivery of social housing.
“It is envisaged that engaging with applicants who have already secured planning permission, and are site-ready, will bring a level of efficiency to the delivery process,” says the council spokesperson.
Lacey says he likes to see small-scale developments in the pipeline, but in light of the current housing crisis, the state needs to build large-scale public housing projects too.
“If we are to deliver the big builds, I believe personally that we need to have a state construction company,” he says.
The Department of Housing staff don’t seem to understand the crisis, he says. “State companies are gone out of fashion a bit but I don’t see any other way to deliver on the quantities that we need.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan says the council is “way off the target of delivery” and he fears that will get worse. “There is now a deepening concern that inflation will have an effect on delivery.”
Some developers don’t want to make any commitment on price due to the increasing inflation in the sector, he says.
The council housing manager said at a council meeting in January this year that he didn’t need any more staff, but Doolan says that is incorrect.
“Senior management will always say that,” he says. “We know that with designers and architects the city council is down a huge amount of staff.”
“We know they need more staff. People on the housing list know they need more staff,” he says. “The homeless list is gone through the roof again.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says it recently sanctioned 30 more staff across the four Dublin local authorities to support social-housing delivery.
The Housing for All strategy includes a commitment to building institutional capacity in councils, they said.
That means to “strengthen the capacity of local authorities to initiate, design, plan, develop and manage housing projects and recognises that this requires the resourcing of the housing services of local authorities”, they said.