Who's Going to Be First in Line for Affordable Housing Schemes in the City?

Dublin city councillors met last Thursday to talk about who the council should prioritise, if more people apply to buy “affordable” homes than there are affordable homes to buy.

That question is just one small piece of the puzzle in getting ready to set up an affordable-housing purchase scheme.

And just a small piece of that small piece was up for discussion last Thursday.

Draft rules sent down from the Department of Housing set out different criteria that’ll be taken into account – around whether a member of the household is living within an area, working in the area, or studying in the area.

On Thursday, councillors got to weigh in on how wide an area applicants would be drawn from.

Planned Schemes

Not counting its cost-rental pilot at St Michael’s Estate, the council’s current plans are for roughly 2,300 affordable homes at different sites in the city.

The lands are at different stages of readiness, with 329 homes at Oscar Traynor Road and O’Devaney Gardens working their way through the procurement process, the report says.

“We’re at a very advanced stage of entering into arrangements to buy those affordable houses,” said Tony Flynn, a senior housing official with Dublin City Council, on Thursday.

Two sites in Ballymun and one in Cherry Orchard, where there are plans for 372 homes, were advertising for expressions of interest in March.

For those, the council got €14.6 million for infrastructure works from the Department of Housing, under its Serviced Sites Fund, the report says.

Priorities

Council officials aren’t completely sure who’ll be eligible in terms of income limits yet, as they haven’t seen the department’s final regulations on that, said Flynn.

So they won’t know until they see those, what the price of the homes will be set at, and similar details.

Thursday’s discussion was about, if people are eligible but there are too many people for homes, who gets priority.

There are several tiers of priority, said Dymphna Farrell, a senior executive officer with the council’s housing department. “It’s a filtering system.”

First, if there are more applicants than homes for sale, the council will look at whether the home is the right fit for the household, with one-bedrooms for singles or couples, and two-beds for couples or for three people, for example.

Too many buyers still? The council will narrow it to those with a member living in the housing authority area for at least 12 months before the application.

If demand is even stronger, and there are still too many on that list, the council will whittle it down based on other factors.

These will include: whether a household has a member who’s a full-time student within a certain distance of the home for sale; whether a household member is employed at a place within a certain distance from the home; and when people applied.

Councillors had to decide within what distance, within how wide an area they should consider students, or jobs as eligible, said Farrell.

In other words, should they prioritise those working, or studying within a specific neighbourhood, or citywide, or within a much wider area?

How Far Afield?

Council officials had sketched in a 30km area for education, and a 100km area for jobs– which, from the centre of Dublin would mean an area that spreads north to Monaghan, west almost to Longford, and south to just outside Wexford.

That’s to make it as inclusive as possible, said Flynn. People might, at the moment, be travelling quite far for school, say if they have kids with different needs in special institutions, he said.

“If you narrow it right down to a very very small radius in the context of education, there may be an issue of exclusion,” Flynn said.

Depending on what they do, people may travel widely for work, too – if, for example, they’re in construction and move from site to site, he said. “Wherever the work brings them.”

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn asked how other councils were setting their criteria. “We need to see the overall coordination of this,” he said.

He also asked how education was going to be defined – whether it would take in apprenticeships as well as college or university. “The education, we need to be looking at exactly what we’re looking at.”

Tony Flynn said that other councils were opting for a 100km area for jobs, and somewhere between 30km to 50km for studying.

Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said she was conscious that having family in the area wasn’t taken into account in the scheme.

She knows people who want to move closer to family, she said. “Purely for child-minding reasons. There’s nothing there that would take account of that.”

Next Steps

Councillors agreed to 50km for studying, and 100km for jobs – a recommendation which gets passed on to the monthly meeting of the full council later this month, who may change that or agree it.

After that, whatever the full council agrees will get passed back to Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, who can change it.

It then has to be formally adopted by the full council at its June meeting – when the hall will include newly elected councillors – in order to meet the legal timeline.

Councillors have to adopt a scheme by law in line with timelines, but they will be able, it seems, to adjust it again in the future if they need to, said Flynn, the council official.

It was concerning that, again, councillors didn’t get the final say and that officials at Custom House, where the Department of Housing sits, have the final word, said independent Councillor Christy Burke.

“It can be shafted, changed, or altered to tweaked, whatever way you like,” he said.

Still to Be Decided

In January 2018, Minister Murphy said he would bring in an affordable-purchase scheme.

At the time, he said those eligible to buy affordable homes would be earning less than €50,000 as a single applicant, or €75,000 as a joint applicant.

Further qualifying criteria would “be reflected in the regulations to launch the scheme next month”, he said.

In June 2018, Murphy commenced the relevant provisions of Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, with some details on who the scheme would work.

The law will be supported by regulations, “currently being finalised”, Murphy said in the Dáil, in January this year.

As Dublin City Council officials see it, Flynn said, what the council needs to do is to put pressure on the department, to ask them as soon as possible to bring in the other regulations to get the schemes up and running. “There’s a raft of regulations to come in.”

“So we know who are eligible [in terms of income limits], and we know how to sell them on the legals in relation in the charging order,” he said.

They also need to put an IT system in place to do the work for them, too, he said.

Gilliland, the Labour councillor, said the whole process was piecemeal, signing off on part of the rules. “It still doesn’t come into effect because we don’t have the eligibility criteria signed off on,” she said, at Thursday’s meeting.

“So we’re not really achieving anything here to get this scheme up and running,” she said. “Are we getting anywhere at all?”

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Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at lois@dublininquirer.com.

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