Racism and Housing
One family he knows is being attacked every night, said Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan. “Their house smashed up. Cars damaged. Kids terrorised.”
Kevin White, a community response worker with ALONE, said his organisation had recently moved a Ghanaian woman in her 70s into a housing complex. She gets regular abuse when she goes out, he says.
At their meeting last Thursday, Dublin city councillors and other members on the council’s housing committee heard about work being done by the Community Action Network (CAN) to try to tackle racism within social-housing complexes, and what more might be done to bring people together as the make up of communities changes.
Many of them stressed that it isn’t that racism is just an issue in local-authority housing. “Far from it,” said Doolan, who chairs the housing committee. “But that’s where our responsibilities lie.”
Peter Dorman of CAN, a social-justice organisation, said the organisation had noticed 2016 Housing Agency figures that say a quarter of people on Dublin city’s housing list weren’t Irish citizens, and they wondered what might happen as some mainly white communities diversify.
“There may be grounds for concern,” he said, pointing to figures from 2014 from the Immigrant Council of Ireland, which found that 17 percent of all racist incidents occurred at or around the home. “Ireland does have a problem with racism,” said Dorman.
Pat Tobin of CAN said they have started to work in some parts of the city, bringing together people from some of the complexes, minority communities, Gardaí, Tusla and others to talk about ways forward.
Councillor Éilis Ryan of the Workers’ Party said that getting people who were born in Ireland, and people who weren’t, to campaign together on issues around the housing crisis in local areas would be a big thing.
As would giving councillors more information around housing allocations – which would make them able to respond to disinformation that can swirl around about who has got an allocation, and how long they were waiting, Ryan said.
Doolan pointed to a recent European Union report which found that levels of racist violence against black people in Ireland were among the highest in Europe. The findings were “robust, stark, scary”, he said.
The council needs to respond imaginatively, Doolan said. “Is it the right thing to do […] to allocate a home to a family knowing they’re going to be isolated? Knowing they’re going to be under attack in a very short space of time?”
“We know some people are more vulnerable than others. And now we need to put into that filter race as well,” he said.
Dublin City Council Executive Manager Tony Flynn said that it is the council’s policy not to tolerate racism in any shape or form, “whether in the public realm, or in our complexes”.
Delisting Mercer House
In November, Sinn Féin Councillor Chris Andrews put forward a motion calling on council management to start to delist a couple of the social-housing complexes in the city from the Record of Protected Structures: Pearse House and Markievicz House.
That way they could be bulldozed and new, up-to-scratch homes could be built on those sites, the motion said. If a building is protected, there are rules about the kinds of changes that can be made to it. Councillors passed that motion.
On Thursday, Andrews put forward a similar motion, this time for Mercer House near St Stephen’s Green in Dublin 2. “We’re trying to carve new shapes out of rotten wood,” said Andrews.
Councillors need to show the same vision as the architect who oversaw the building of many of the city’s housing complexes, Herbert Simms, and replace these with decent housing, he said. Residents in some of the city’s older housing complexes are living with significant mould, damp, and cold.
Workers’ Party Councillor Éilis Ryan said she gets frustrated with conservationists who believe the city should live in the past. But she also said the motion should call just for delisting, not for demolition too.
“I don’t think that the two necessarily have to go hand in hand,” Ryan said. That way, they could look at keeping the facade, or doing a deep retrofit – significantly renovating the buildings.
People Before Profit Councillor Sonya Stapleton said similar. “We have to be very careful as to what we’re throwing out there,” she said.
Andrews of Sinn Féin said he thought ruling out demolition would leave too much wiggle room. “I don’t think anyone really knows either, if they were delisted could they be deep-retrofitted,” he said.
Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said they should change the motion, and say that “if required”, they could demolish the buildings. Councillors voted through that change – and the motion.
People Before Profit Councillor Andrew Keegan said he wants the council to consider allowing companion pets in homes managed by approved housing bodies. Some have no-pet policies, he said.
For those who are lonely or have mental-health difficulties, pets can be a solace, Keegan said. So could pets be allowed then? “A lapdog, a small little dog, a budgerigar whatever,” he said.
Councillors agreed Keegan’s motion to ask council management to consider the change.
Dublin City Council’s Executive Manager Tony Flynn said they had asked approved housing bodies about the issue. Typically, pets are not encouraged in apartments, he said. “So there is a differentiation between apartments and houses,” he said.
There’s also sometimes another group of people who decide whether pets are allowed, aside from the council and the approved housing bodies: management companies, he said. “So there’s another layer on top of that as well,” Flynn said.
Future of Complexes
Towards the end of 2017, Dublin city councillors began to discuss plans to refurbish, or knock down and rebuild, or do a bit of both, with thousands of social apartments.
There are 240 council apartment schemes in Dublin city. Of those, 109 were built more than 40 years ago.
Councillors got an update last week on how those plans are going. Darach O’Connor, a senior executive officer in housing development, said the council has put a team together of architects and planners who’ve collected all the records and past plans for all of these complexes.
They’re looking at whether all the land around them is being used as best it can be. At the end of February, they’ll go talk to housing managers in each of the areas to get local knowledge too, and make sure they’re on the right track.
After that, they’re planning to bring in council workers from the maintenance section, who are doing a survey looking at what condition the housing stock is in, he says. “Where are we spending our money?”
Next, they’ll do up a fact sheet for each complex and put them on display in each area, and work with the council’s area committees on what should be prioritised over the next 20 years, he said.