Is It Time to Lift Ballymun's Ban on Rent Supplement?

When the ban on rent supplement for newcomers to Ballymun was first introduced in November 2008, there was support among both locals and politicians, says Labour TD John Lyons, who has lived in the area since he was a child.

The ban covered the Ballymun regeneration area and was allowed “for the purpose of providing for greater social integration”, under Section 25 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2007 .

Ballymun Regeneration Limited, the Dublin City Council company in charge of the regeneration, had sought the ban to encourage a “greater diversity of tenure” – one of its master plan’s goals.

The idea: prevent people from renting using rent supplement and encourage new people from different backgrounds into the area, as well as a greater diversity of tenure.

In the past seven years, the early support has faded and the tide has turned against the ban.

Last year, the Ballymun/Finglas Housing Action Group staged protests against it. Dublin City councillor Noeleen Reilly of Sinn Fein has called numerous times for it to be lifted. And Lyons called last year for a review of it.

The ban has made it awkward for people who grew up in the area to stay there. Many have been forced to seek accommodation in nearby estates where they can receive rent supplement, said Reilly.

Did It Work?

But has the ban achieved its goals: greater diversity of tenure and a better social mix in the area? And should it remain in place?

As a result of the social housing built in Ballymun in the 1960s and 1970s, by 1998, 80 percent of houses in the area were social. (This was in stark contrast to the national figure of 9.7 percent.)

When the regeneration began in 1997, the goal was to cut the share of Ballymun’s housing that was social nearly in half, leaving 56 percent of housing there private. The hope was that this would encourage schools, shops and sports facilities to open in the area.

But, as Lyons points out, that goal hasn’t been reached, and Ballymun still has the highest proportion of social housing in country.

By 2006, private housing accounted for just 38.5 percent of homes in the area. In 2011, the figure was down a smidgen to 37.6 percent.

According to this year’s figures from Dublin City Council, the percentage of private housing in the area has decreased a fraction once again, to 37.4 percent.

Fifty-six percent is still a long way away.

Not Much Has Changed

If census data is anything to go by, the social mix in the area hasn’t really changed.

The most significant transition is that unemployment increased by a third in the area between 2006 and 2011, which is probably down to the recession.

Looking at skill sets, varying from unskilled all the way up to professional workers, the biggest variation is a decrease in “semi-skilled workers” by 2.1 percent. Looking at figures for third-level education yields similar results.

Reilly says that encouraging a social mix in the area was supposed to have a knock-on effect. It was supposed to encourage shops and other facilities to come up. But the decrease in population since the regeneration began has actually had the opposite effect, she says.

Ballymun is still waiting for a shopping centre, Reilly says.

Given all this, Reilly thinks the ban should be lifted, although she thinks that the impact won’t be as significant as it would have been last year when there were more homes available to rent in the area.

Lyons said he would be happy to see the ban lifted (“It’s served its purpose,” he said), but he hasn’t pushed harder for it because he believes it would only free up a handful of homes – probably less than 20.

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Louisa McGrath: Louisa McGrath is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lmcgrath@dubinq.com.

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