Dee Roche waited 23 years for a permanent social home, she says, but now she regrets accepting the offer of an apartment in Hamilton Gardens because the complex is so segregated.

Roche was renting a house before she moved in and says that staff from Tuath Housing, the housing charity that manages the social homes, told her she would have access to communal gardens.

“I loved my garden,” she says. “I was told I would have my choice of gardens.”

At first, Roche thought it was a mistake when her white key card didn’t open the gate to the part of the complex where the gardens are, she says. Eventually, she found out from another tenant that social tenants aren’t allowed in.

“I wish I never took this apartment,” she says. “We were sold a dream and then it was all taken back.”

Social housing tenants would have to pay €208 a month to access the amenities in the complex – which include a gym and cinema room and, most importantly for Roche, communal gardens – shows an information sheet given to tenants.

Roche worries that the social segregation in the complex is already affecting how the children see themselves and each other. “I think it’s wrong for the kids growing up,” she says. “It’s starting a divide among the kids.”

It’s a scenario that is playing out, with variations, across the city. A portion of homes in big private-rental developments are leased by the state to rent to social tenants, who face a choice: pay large top-up charges to access the communal amenities, or live without access and apart from their neighbours.

Last week, residents of The Davitt, a big new complex in Drimnagh, complained that they had also been locked out of amenities in their housing complex. They have since been given access to the outdoor children’s playground.

At Monday’s monthly meeting of Dublin City Council, the council’s housing manager Coilín O’Reilly, said he welcomed a conversation around what to do in these situations when the council leases social homes in big blocks. “There’s layers within this, and it’s a good conversation to have.”

The crux, he said, is that the council, in agreements with property owners, doesn’t pay for the facilities. “At the end of the day, councillors, we negotiate a fee that is good value for money, we provide the properties at a social rent. That additional facilities have to be paid for by somebody.”

Private tenants pay for that themselves through their general service charges, he said. “If we are going to step into this space, we are going to have to identify a budget from somewhere as a group.”

Said O’Reilly: “I suppose, as part of the bigger conversation going forward, who pays?”

Councillors at the meeting spoke of concerns around isolation and segregation arising from current arrangements, and some talked about the unaffordability of fees for social tenants.

It’s not clear, though, that – in case of build-to-rent complexes at least, which The Davitt is but Hamilton Gardens is not – anyone should be paying extra fees for access to amenities, said architect Mel Reynolds.

“If you have a tenant and the nature of their lease is to restrict access to common areas, upon which your planning permission relies, does that unit have a planning problem, subject to enforcement?” asked Reynolds.

Around half of all social homes delivered in Dublin city last year were leased in private developments, although not all will be in developments with communal amenities.

It costs how much?

Roche’s tenancy agreement with Dublin City Council doesn’t mention communal facilities, or outline any fees to use communal spaces.

Two other social tenants in Hamilton Gardens also said they thought before they moved in that they had access to the amenities and were surprised to find out that they did not.

Tuath Housing did not respond to queries sent last week as to whether it told tenants in writing before they moved in, which amenities they could access.

An information sheet given to the social tenants breaks down the fees that they would have to pay to use the amenities.

It says it is €89 for the gym alone. It costs €119 for access to the lounge, co-working space and bookable cinema room, and includes a parcel locker service, it says.

It is unclear if the latter includes the gardens. If a social tenant wants access to the full amenities it costs €208 per month.

Marie Sherlock, the Labour senator, says that, “First and foremost the social tenants shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens.”

It would be much better if the social housing was fully integrated with private housing and pepper-potted throughout the complex, rather than in separate blocks with different levels of access to amenities, said Sherlock.

Sherlock wrote to Tuath Housing in late April to express concern about the situation.

Tuath Housing wrote back to Sherlock and said that since the social tenants can pay to use the amenities their situation is similar to that of the private tenants.

Other issues

There are other issues, says Roche. When her key card stopped working, she says that Tuath Housing staff told her that the concierge would replace it.

She went to reception but the staff there said that they don’t deal with the tenants in block A, she says.

It took a week, says Roche, being batted forward and back between Tuath and the onsite property manager before she got a new card she says.

The management company, Hooke and MacDonald, didn’t respond to questions submitted on Friday about the management of the complex.

Roche has no intention of paying the fees, she says, as it’s not worth it for her and her adult son. He is already a member of a gym where he pays €39 per month for a gym with a swimming pool, she says.

But, says Roche, for tenants with young families, the segregation is more difficult.

Private tenants can book a party room for birthdays and communions and can access a second playground, the gardens, a cinema room, lounges and roof terraces.

Naturally, all the kids are going to want to go to those places, she says.

The private playground is also more suitable for toddlers so some parents do want to get in there, she says.

And if some social tenants can afford to pay this, that means that an even smaller minority of children from the poorest families will be the only ones left out.

What about planning?

Reynolds, the architect, says that it is not good for community cohesion if some children living in a complex can play in parts of it, while other kids cannot.

When housing charities buy or lease homes under Part V they like the homes to be clustered in one block as the maintenance works out cheaper, he says.

(Part V is when developers of big schemes have to sell or lease a percentage of the homes to use for those most in need of housing. One of the drivers of Part V is to counter social segregation.)

However, when it comes to homes designed under the build-to-rent standards, Reynolds queries whether the segregation of communal facilities is in line with the planning permission.

Ciaran McCabe outside the gate in The Davitt complex which residents have to go through to access the playground. Photo by Laoise Neylon. Credit: Laoise Neylon

Hamilton Gardens in Cabra was not designed under build-to-rent standards. But The Davitt in Drimnagh was.

“This example in Drimnagh suggests that they are treating build-to-rent as if they are an ordinary scheme of units,” says Reynolds.

Build-to-rent is a specific form of housing, in which the community facilities are an integral part. The daylight requirements, the mix of apartments, apartment size and standards are all based on shared amenities being provided as compensatory measures, he says.

“I don’t think there is any provision for the communal space to be segregated within the planning act,” he said.

A document that the developer of The Davitt in Drimnagh submitted during the planning permission process further explains the thinking.

“The principle of build-to-rent schemes, unlike traditional apartment blocks, allows residents to utilise many amenity areas outside of their individual unit,” it says.

“This allows access to all high-quality residential areas including living areas, terraces, views and additional spaces to be enjoyed by all residents on a 24-hour basis,” it says.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said it can’t comment on compliance with planning permissions.

“Any matters relating to compliance with any current or future permissions granted by either a planning authority or An Bord Pleanala are for the planning authority to deal with in their statutory capacity as planning authority,” he says.

“The Minister cannot, in light of section 30 of the Planning and Development Act, comment on any individual case with which the planning authority is concerned.”

At Monday’s monthly council meeting, a few councillors cited examples in their areas of big rental complexes where social tenants can’t apply for a parking space, or access communal facilities without hefty fees.

Fianna Fáil Councillor for Cabra-Glasnevin Eimear McCormack said that at a complex in her constituency, people can access a playground but none of the other facilities. “They can for a fee that is so expensive, nobody can access it.”

It is €149 a month in that one to access all the services, she said. “Which is absolutely exorbitant.”

Mícheál Mac Donncha, the Sinn Féin councillor representing Donaghmede said it wasn’t a local issue, particular to The Davitt and Drimnagh.

“It’s not even an area issue,” he said. “This is a citywide issue with implications, particularly for the future for, the numbers of our tenants and AHB [approved housing body] tenants who are going to be in Part V, etcetera.”

“We should not be putting tenants into that kind of situation. This needs to be tied down before people go into these accommodation,” he said.

“There’s many, many apartment blocks like that in my own area, and there’s many have planning permission,” said Mac Donncha. “And, are people going to face this when they go into similar situations in Clongriffin and Belmayne?”

O’Reilly, the council’s housing manager, said the debate around what to do would continue at the council’s housing committee.

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at

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