“Rapid-Build” Social Homes Due for Completion in 2021 Delayed Until 2023

On Bonham Street in the Liberties, a new eight-storey brown brick building with a zig-zag roofline overlooks Bridgefoot Street Park.

But while the building looks almost finished from the front and boasts shiny new windows, around the back there is still scaffolding.

These 57 “rapid-build” homes were at one point scheduled for completion by March 2021, but are now set to be finished by June 2023, says a council report– more than two years later.

The apartments are part of a batch of 261 homes being built under the council’s “rapid-build” programme, with other complexes on Cork Street/Chamber Street also in the Liberties, Springvale in Chapelizod and Bunratty Road in Coolock.

All were originally scheduled for completion in early to mid-2021 and are now scheduled for completion by the middle of 2023, shows a Dublin City Council housing supply report.

Meanwhile, people waiting on those homes are stuck in precarious housing situations and are increasingly desperate, says People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin. “It’s gone beyond comprehension how bad it is,” she says. “It’s causing so much trauma.”

Independent Councillor John Lyons has been pushing council managers for answers as to what is behind the delays.

He says they have told him that there are serious structural issues with the buildings. “They didn’t identify what the structural issues were.”

On 17 October, in response to a query from Lyons, City Architect Ali Grehan said that the council has “identified issues requiring rectification” and that work to rectify those issues is ongoing.

The council is waiting on a revised completion date and will issue a detailed report once the work is concluded, she said.

What is Happening?

In the Dáil last Wednesday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin pointed to the need for more rapid-build homes to deal with the country’s housing crisis.

But within the Dublin City Council area, councillors say they have struggled to get answers on what is going on with long-overdue existing rapid-build projects.

Local councillors have repeatedly asked officials about the timeline for the new homes in Chapelizod, says de Nortúin, the People Before Profit councillor. “They haven’t been clear with us at all, we have been asking at every meeting.”

The council’s official response until now was that the delays were caused by Covid-19, says de Nortúin, but that didn’t make sense to her.

The delays are causing uncertainty and even panic for local people waiting for social housing, she says.

Some families near the top of the waiting list for a social home have notices to quit from their private-rented accommodation, she says. They are asking their landlords for extensions on their leases and banking on these new-build homes to keep them out of homelessness.

Some families have children with additional needs, and others are living in very overcrowded conditions with relatives, she says. “They are all so different, the stories, but they are all so extreme.”

It’s getting awkward repeatedly having to tell people that the few social homes planned for the area are delayed, she says. “It’s very frustrating. What do you even say?”

The council has plans to purchase 20 homes in private developments in Chapelizod and isn’t building any others, according to the latest housing report.

On 17 October, at a meeting of the North Central Area Committee, independent Councillor John Lyons asked the council’s area manager what was behind the delays with the 78 “rapid-build” social homes planned for Bunratty Road in Coolock.

The council has already advertised the homes through its choice-based lettings system, he says. “People are banking on those because there are so few in the area.”

The council is planning a large development at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock but that is a long way off. The planning application has not yet been submitted, according to the housing report.

Coolock is in the council area with the longest waiting list for social homes. Together with Kilbarrack and Darndale, it makes up the council’s Area B, where as of January there were 3,635 households looking for social housing.

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the project by the guts of a year which was very frustrating but out of everyone’s hands, says Lyons. “But the latest delay, caused by the discovery of serious structural issues, is quite something altogether.”

He says the council needs to be fully transparent about the causes of the delay and works carried out as soon as possible.

“Families are waiting to make these residential units their new homes and we have to ensure that this latest delay is shorter than the last one,” he said.

Grehan, the city architect, issued a formal response to the question from Lyons, saying that three other social housing projects – at Bonham Street, Cork Street and Springvale – were part of the same “rapid build” programme and were all being delivered by the construction company Sisk.

Dublin City Council “tendered the four projects as a bundle to be delivered by one contractor using ‘volumetric system build’ construction under four separate Design and Build contracts,” she says.

Design and build means that the building contractor employs an architect and different subcontractors, says Grehan.

“Sisk therefore employs multiple parties with responsibility for designing and constructing different elements and certifying compliance of their work with building regulations,” she says.

The council employs a contract administrator and assigned certifier to check the work and they identified issues, Grehan said. “Sisk is currently rectifying these issues in association with their specialist sub-contractors and designers.”

Due to the nature of the contract, the council can’t give any more details, she said.

Sisk declined to comment on the status of the projects.

Not So Fast

“What is rapid build?” says de Nortúin. It doesn’t seem to be happening quickly, she says.

According to a Dublin City Council housing supply reportissued in January 2020, all these “rapid-build” homes were on site, or about to start construction, and they were scheduled for completion in 2021.

It says that 78 homes at Bunratty Road in Coolock and 57 homes at Bonham Street in the south inner-city were set to be built out by the end of March 2021.

The 71 homes at Springvale in Chapelizod and 55 homes at Cork Street/Chamber Street in Dublin 8 were due to be done by the end of June 2021.

The social homes being built on Cork Street and Chamber Street. Photo by Laoise Neylon.

By June 2021, the timelines had lapsed and, at that point, the council report said that the homes would be finished later in 2021 and in the first half of 2022.

According to the most recent council supply reportthe homes are now set to be finished by June 2023.

Although the response issued by Grehan suggests that that date is also not certain. “We are awaiting a revised programme and completion date from the contractor,” she said.

The Department of Housing didn’t respond directly to queries about the speed of the “rapid-build” housing.

“This Department works closely with all local authorities to increase and accelerate the delivery of a range of social housing programmes and supports, including through the use of design-build delivery methodologies, which includes prefabricated, modular build and other systems using modern methods of construction,” says a spokesperson.

The department instructed councils to use modern methods of construction where appropriate to deliver social housing on land it owns, they said.

So far, councils nationwide have built 850 social homes in this way and there are another 1,700 in the pipeline, they said.

“The Department will continue to work with local authorities to maximise delivery through this mechanism,” said the spokesperson.

Author:

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

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