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On Connaught Street in Phibsboro, residents say they have campaigned for 20 years to get two derelict red-brick Victorian houses used again.
On the opposite side of the street looking at the weedy walls of numbers 19 and 21, Jim Hussey sounds frustrated.
The dereliction is unfair on other families and his family too, says Hussey. “It is probably one of the most attractive streets to live on – but this eyesore,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s so frustrating.”
In 2009, the council put the two houses on the Derelict Sites Register, says his neighbour Paul McCarthy. But then in 2012, they took them back off that list again, before they were put back on in 2018.
Residents were ready to shout victory when Dublin City Council finally bought the two homes in 2019 using compulsory purchase orders, says Hussey. “We thought we are on the road now.”
But nothing happened and the houses are still derelict. Last week, residents held a protest and fastened up a banner across the two houses. “These derelict properties are owned by Dublin City Council,” it says.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that the council has employed an architect and an engineer and is working on designs to refurbish the two houses.
That will be “a lengthy process and requires extensive resources to be expended from the City Council” over and above the normal maintenance budget, he says.
The works, together with purchasing the two homes will come to around €1.2 million, he said. That finance for the works is subject to approval from the Department of Housing.
A Long Battle
McCarthy moved onto Connaught Street around 10 years ago, he says. “This building was held up with construction buttressing to stop it falling down.”
At that time, the residents’ association was campaigning to get something done and Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick, then a councillor, advocated within the council to get the houses placed on the derelict sites register, he says.
A photo of Fitzpatrick taken around that time shows the wooden planks holding up the brickwork of the houses.
The owners neatened the boards over the windows and doors and secured the property, says McCarthy, but did not restore the homes themselves.
“From the point of view of the council that solved the whole dereliction problem. The buildings were rendered no longer derelict by dint of good boarding up and they walked away from the problem,” he says.
The council removed the houses from the derelict sites register in 2012, he says.
(The An Bord Pleanála inspector’s reports for the compulsory purchase orders has the same timeline.)
In 2016, residents stuck Santa’s stockings on the doors, highlighting the homelessness crisis, says McCarthy.
In 2017, Broadsheet reported that an organisation called Common Interest Communities had stuck a notice on the houses saying it was going to take possession of them.
In 2018, the council put the houses back on the derelict sites register and started the compulsory purchase process, says McCarthy. It got them in July 2019 and since then, each year, it says that it will refurbish them next year, he says.
The council spokesperson says that it carried out health and safety checks on the houses in 2020.
The architect and engineer appointed by the council said both properties are in a poor state of dilapidation and needed works to stabilise the interiors before they can do a full structural survey, they said. That’s now been done, they said.
In 2021, the council began to engage with different internal departments on the designs and hopes to move on to Part 8 planning – which is how the council grants itself permission to do something – later this year, they said.
Back in February, Coilín O’Reilly, the council’s assistant chief executive overseeing housing, said that the council was then “undertaking surveys to inform our tender but it is estimated to be Q3 2022 for tender and Q4 2022 before any works take place on site. It will be late 2023 or early 2024 before the project is complete.”
Last week a council spokesperson said that, “Subject to the granting of the necessary approvals it is anticipated that the refurbishment works will commence and be completed in 2023.”
The council bought another long-term vacant property on the same road in 2019, which was in better condition, said the spokesperson. That was refurbished and people moved into it by early 2021, they said.
Des Gunning says that he has lived on Connaught Street since around 1985, and he doesn’t expect to see action on the two vacant homes any time soon.
“Having seen them as derelict for decades I expect I will see them as derelict for decades more,” says Gunning. “If it is left up to Dublin City Council.”
Said Gunning: “The council simply hasn’t got the machinery to cope with dereliction.”
Gunning, McCarthy and Hussey say the council needs a new policy to deal with derelict buildings, perhaps handing them straight over to another entity once they’ve bought them.
It could be an approved housing body, says Gunning. (Those are not-for-profit landlords and developers.)
The council is tied up in too much red tape, he says. “I do think it is beyond the competence of Dublin City Council to do this.”
“It’s delegating it out to someone else whether it is a housing body or an investor,” says Hussey. “Someone who will put families living in there and make it vibrant again.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it is the council’s intention to refurbish the homes and rent them out as social housing.