Niamh Fox says when she first saw her brand-new apartment, the decorations and furnishings were so plush that she thought it was the showhouse.

“I was absolutely blown away, as I’m sure were all the residents,” she says. “We were told, ‘You have the facilities, the gym, the yoga room, the cinema room.’ ”

After waiting 14 years for a social home, Fox jumped at the offer of an apartment in Parkside Boulevard, an estate in Belmayne, where the council leases a block for tenants on its housing list.

Shortly after she moved in, Fox went to reception to ask about signing up for the gym, she says.

But staff for the management company, Vesta, said residents of Block D, which is all social-housing tenants, couldn’t access the amenities.

The worst thing, says Fox, is that the management company provides regular treats and fun seasonal activities for kids in the other three blocks. Toy Show boxes at Christmas, Halloween goody bags, a crêpe truck on Pancake Tuesday and an Easter egg hunt, she says.

This means constant disappointment for the children from Block D and segregation among the kids in the development, many of whom go to school together, says Fox, who is treasurer of the residents association established by the social tenants.

“How do kids integrate in a community? It’s just not right,” she says.

Dublin City Council leases social housing in six complexes where there are shared recreational amenities, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request.

“Access to recreational amenities is available to Dublin City Council tenants in five of the six schemes with service charge for use being a matter for the owner/lessor and tenant to agree,” says the FOI response.

“The Council is currently engaging with the Letting Agent in the remaining development to facilitate access to the additional amenities,” it says.

Vesta, the management company that runs the apartments in Belmayne, says it cannot charge separately for amenities.

“The lease that Dublin City Council entered into for the apartment block in question specifically excluded the use of the neighbouring resident facilities at the development,” says a spokesperson for Vesta. “This exclusion was at the behest of Dublin City Council.”

At the June monthly meeting, council housing manager Coilín O’Reilly said the council doesn’t pay for access to these, and the amenities have to be paid for somehow.

“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,” he said.

Both Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan and independent Councillor Mannix Flynn have been calling for the council to reverse its policy of agreeing leasing arrangements in which social tenants have no access to amenities.

While, so far, Dublin City Council has leased or bought 62 homes to use as social homes in build-to-rent blocks – which are mostly the ones with amenities within complexes – there could be hundreds more in future.

Six complexes so far

The six complexes where Dublin City Council has leased social homes so far include The Davitt in Drimnagh, and Hamilton Gardens in Cabra.

Alongside these are homes in Swiss Cottage and Santry Place in Santry, Rostrevor Place in Rathgar, and Parkside Boulevard in Belmayne, says the FOI response.

Management companies have taken different approaches to social tenants and their access to the communal facilities.

Not all charge. “We confirm there are no charges for DCC tenants to use the communal facilities at Santry Place,” says a spokesperson for Storyhouse, which manages Santry Place.

Tenants in The Davitt in Drimnagh can pay around €81 a month per household to access the indoor amenities, including the gym but tenants said in June they still couldn’t pay to rent a car parking space.

From November 2022 to June 2023, tenants were excluded from an outdoor playground, but following a story published in early June, they were granted access.

In Hamilton Gardens in Cabra, tenants were quoted €208 a month to get access to the full range of communal facilities, which included a gym and cinema room.

Social tenants here also complained that they couldn’t access the outdoor communal space in the complex. Since then, they too have been granted access, they say.

At Parkside Boulevard in Belmayne, meanwhile, residents asked about paying for access to facilities but have been told no, says Fox.

She feels it is discrimination, she says. “We might as well have it tattooed on our heads.”

But while it is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant who is on the HAP scheme, say, there are no protections for other social housing tenants living in private complexes, she says.

The spokesperson for Vesta says: “We are not permitted to operate the facilities commercially, ie, to charge admission, as we do not have planning permission for that.”

“Furthermore, we do not have the capacity to manage the facilities commercially, this would require more staff and different insurance,” says the spokesperson.

Hundreds more

Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor – who is among those calling on the council to roll back its policy of agreeing contracts where tenants don’t have access to amenities – recently asked officials how many homes the council has agreed to lease in build-to-rent complexes going forward.

There are deals in place for a further 176 more homes in build-to-rent complexes, said a response from Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan.

And 1,196 homes could be added to these if all the build-to-rent developments that have planning permission are built, it says.

Architect and housing commentator Mel Reynolds has queried whether the planning permission for a build-to-rent complex allows for the common areas to be restricted from use by some tenants.

Communal spaces are an integral part of these developments, he said.

“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.

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn says the council should not enter into any more lease arrangements where tenants don’t have full access to the amenities.

The council and the housing charity have obligations towards their tenants, he says, yet are causing exclusion. “We keep people disconnected, othered and excluded.”

Flynn says he plans to propose a motion to the next meeting of the housing committee calling on Dublin City Council and housing charities “to address the issue of discrimination and inequality”.

Andrew Kelly, a campaigner to end social-class discrimination, with All Together in Dignity, as part of the Add the 10th campaign says that segregation of communal facilities sounds like a clear example of the problem. “That’s discrimination down to the ground.”

Experiences of being excluded from festivities and seasonal activities could affect children’s self-esteem and how they see themselves, he says.

It is also likely to impact on the friendships that are formed among the children in the complex, said Kelly. “It could have a knock-on effect on their whole lives.”

It also leaves parents in the distressing position of having to explain to their children why they cannot attend the fun events, he said.

There are currently nine legal grounds for discrimination claims, including gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, membership of the Traveller community and race.

Socio-economic status, or social class, is not currently recognised as a ground for discrimination, he says. “This would be the missing part of the puzzle.”

Either way the segregation of communal facilities cannot continue, says Flynn, the independent councillor. “It is class discrimination in fact. It’s part of prejudice.”

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

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