Everyone Should Have Access to Affordable Public Housing, Council Working Group Proposes

A working group of Dublin City Councillors has produced a position paper calling for access to public housing to be extended to everyone.

Public housing should be “high quality sustainable housing for all citizens regardless of income, that is rented from one’s local authority or its nominees (AHBs) so as to affordably and securely provide for one’s particular housing needs”, says the group’s report.

Rents should be decided according to household income rather than the cost of building the homes.

To transition towards universal access to housing the council could start by offering homes to those on incomes of less than €75,000 per year for a couple, or less than €50,000 for singles.

“It is a vision paper,” says Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, the Lord Mayor, who chaired the working group and the council’s housing committee, which last month voted to support the working group’s report and send it to the full council.

“It’s where we would like to see the council go and national housing policy go in the future,” Gilliland said.

But rolling it out would place a massive burden on taxpayers, said the council housing manager, Brendan Kenny, last month. And beyond the council’s powers, he said.

“It is really, I think, a waste of time to be actually promoting something that is totally contradictory to government policy,” Kenny said.

What Is Public Housing?

The term “public housing” is used a lot but there is no agreed definition of it, says Gilliland.

In 2019, the housing committee set up a working group to agree on a definition of public housing and outline the council’s vision for it, says the report.

The working group’s final report was presented to the full council on Monday 5 July, but then the meeting ran out of time.

So it will be debated at the next full council meeting – a special meeting to discuss the local property tax, set for 19 July.

Dublin City Council should stop using council land for affordable-purchase schemes, other than in exceptional circumstances and if councillors agree that doing so would “contribute to community cohesion and sustainable development”, says the report.

The report recommends that the council move away from selling social homes to tenants too although it notes that the tenant purchase scheme is a national one, and so a local authority doesn’t have the power to drop it.

The council should set the rents based on what people can afford, as a percentage of their income, like they do with social housing, it says. Though what percentage is an issue that would require more analysis, it says.

The council should ask the Department of Housing to increase the share of homes that private developers must sell to local authorities, in each private development. That is currently 10 percent of all developments with more than nine homes.

“Such an increase could include a specification for public rental for those in the middle-income bands,” the report says.

The report says that the Department of Housing should fund community amenities and infrastructure for new housing projects.

The council should establish its own land-management and acquisition section and draw up a policy for how it will allocate the new public homes.

The council should provide quarterly updates on the implementation of these recommendations, says the report.

A Vision for the Future

On 9 June, the working group presented a draft of the reportto the housing committee, and most councillors welcomed it.

“It is an excellent report,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, who said it was good that councillors were thinking about setting policy.

Doolan queried how affordability would be defined. That was also an issue on the mind of Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne, who was on the working group.

“Getting it right is so important and what I mean by that is the affordability,” said Dunne.

At the moment Dublin City Council tenants pay 15 percent of their income as their rent under the “differential rent” scheme.

But those on higher incomes could afford to pay a higher percentage of their income to their rent, Dunne said.

The next step is to define affordability and the appropriate rent for each of the income brackets, said Gilliland.

Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan said she was worried that adopting the new policy would impede affordable-housing projects that are currently underway.

She represents Ballymun, where a housing co-operative, Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance, is building homes for affordable purchase.

“It’s a successful project, it’s delivering, it’s taken a long time to get to this stage,” she said. “To inhibit it at this point could be very detrimental.”

Speaking by phone on Tuesday, Gilliland said that no existing projects would be affected by the new policy, if it is adopted by councillors.

“There are lots of delivery vehicles in train, and we will not be pulling out of any of them,” she says.

The purpose of the report is to outline the councillors’ vision for how Dublin City Council should provide housing, she says.

It may take many years to become a reality, but the councillors want the council to focus on providing affordable rental homes, to stock up on public housing for future generations.

“Our vision is that that asset should be retained for those in housing need, well into the future,” she says.

When affordable-purchase homes are built on public land, the homeowner should be tied to selling the house back to the council if they decide to move on, says Gilliland.

At the full council meeting on Monday 5 July, Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney, said she doesn’t agree with the item in the report that the council should ordinarily stop providing land for affordable-purchase homes.

“There are people in our communities, Lord Mayor, and we all represent them, who want to purchase their own homes,” she said.

Show Me the Money

“Housing, whether we like it or not, is governed by national policy,” said the council’s housing manager, Brendan Kenny, at the housing committee meeting in June.

“Dublin City Council’s role is in the implementation of housing policy, not the making of it,” he said.

The council cannot decide to stop providing affordable-purchase homes or to suspend the tenant-purchase scheme, he said.

The report outlines three possible ways that the public housing projects could be funded.

In the first scenario outlined the state would invest in building the homes and the local authority would use the rent, to cover the management and maintenance of them.

In the second scenario the local authority would borrow from the European Investment Bank and the central government would subsidise the developments.

In a third potential scenario, the state could borrow on behalf of the local authority to cover all the direct costs, the rent could be used to pay back the loan.

The vision is similar to the plan for cost-rental developments. However, in this case the household would pay rent according to their income, and the state would subsidise the balance.

“We are not criticising anything at all in the document,” said Kenny. But “there is no way at all that the differential rent scheme can be applied to cost rental”, he said.

The government couldn’t afford to do that. “That would place a huge burden on the taxpayers of this country,” he said.

The council cannot build homes without the approval of the Department of Housing, said Kenny.

Borrowing to build large developments would be a major risk, he said. Interest rates are low but the repayments would be substantial. “A loan of €100 million would cost us €4.8 million per annum,” he says.

The director of housing delivery, Dave Dinnigan, said that while he didn’t agree with all aspects of the report, he supported the idea of promoting public housing.

The council is planning a pilot project of 100 percent public housing at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, which will be 30 percent social and 70 percent cost-rental, he said.

“My job is to deliver housing and I have to be practical about that and look at the funding mechanisms that are available,” he said.

Together with the Land Development Agency, Dublin City Council also plans to deliver cost-rental homes at St Teresa’s Gardens in Dublin 8 and in Cherry Orchard, he said.

Then they will assess those three projects and see what they have learned, he said.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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