Last Friday, supporters of the Bolt Hostel held an emergency rally to show their strength because they expected an injunction from Dublin City Council. By Tuesday evening, though, that injunction hadn’t come.
“Dublin City Council haven’t contacted us,” said Seamus Farrell, from the Irish Housing Network. “It’s silence from them at the moment.”
So, for the time being, the group is pressing ahead with its plans to open up the local-authority-owned building to homeless families and individuals. In the past few days, they have continued to fix it up, cleaning and painting.
“We’ve already had single homeless people staying this week on a one-night basis,” said Farrell, and they are finalising their list of people who want to move in.
When Dublin City Council and activists from the Irish Housing Network first met last week, it seemed like they’d found common ground.
On Friday, though, the city council’s Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and the Irish Housing Network released separate statements.
The city council stressed the safety concerns it had over the building, and said that because of those concerns, it had asked the group to move out.
“Dublin City Council are currently taking appropriate steps to ensure that the building is vacated,” it said in the statement. The council didn’t reply to a query asking for more details on how the building was unsafe.
Meanwhile, the Irish Housing Network posted an email exchange on Facebook, which the activist group said was between it and city council.
In it, a city council official told the group that it was happy to explore the idea of working together with the group on refurbishment opportunities, but that it wasn’t going to happen while they were “in situ in buildings which are under the ownership of Dublin City Council”.
For the Irish Housing Network, that wasn’t concrete enough.
They’d been discussing the idea of swapping from Bolt Hostel to another vacant city council building, said Farrell. If such a deal were confirmed in writing, and if there were a proven agreement that Bolt Hostel would be put to use, they’d move, he said.
“We don’t have a strong sense of possession of this building, we just want it to be put to use. We want to see this homelessness and housing crisis actually start to be tackled,” he said.
What Are the Council’s Plans?
In its statement, Dublin City Council did say that, on the Bolt Hostel building, it is working with an approved housing body “to return this building into self-contained units for social housing purposes”.
It hasn’t given any details of the project, or any estimated timeframe, despite a query. And it hasn’t confirmed who it’s working with.
But there is a planning application for “social housing and ancilliary developments” at the site, 38/39 Bolton Street, filed in January of this year by Novas Initiatives.
The development shows six one-bedroom apartments, two two-bedroom apartments, as well as balconies and a roof garden.
The project brief is for single people and couples deemed eligible for social housing, the documents note. For the most part, it’s not meant for younger families and children, and there is no on-site service or permanent staffing envisaged.
Elsewhere, the planning application says: “The existing accommodation is of poor and now dilapidated standard and requires substantial refurbishment and redevelopment to bring it to a suitable standard.”
It continues: “The development of regulatory and development standards for housing and residential standards requires large unit sizes and restricts the format of accommodation to which the premises was configured, including bedsit type accommodation.”
Novas Initiatives didn’t want to talk about the planning application, and directed all calls to Dublin City Council.
As things stand, Farrell said the Irish Housing Network expects to begin moving more families in towards the end of this week, although that’s a flexible deadline.
They’ve drawn up a security rota, so there will be people on hand to manage the building. And they’re having a strict consultation process to work out who will be accepted in. There’ll be structures and rules for the house, he said.
On Tuesday, volunteers were still working away.