Council Ending Its Boycott on Building New Social Housing in Ballymun

Dublin City Council is reversing a long-standing policy of not providing new social homes in Ballymun, which was brought in 15 years ago as part of a plan to try to change the mix of houses in the suburb.

It has plans to build social housing on seven sites in Ballymun and, if councillors agree, it will buy homes there too, said the council’s housing manager, Brendan Kenny, at a housing committee meeting last Wednesday.

Some local councillors welcomed the change, pointing to the huge demand for social homes in the neighbourhood and how the policy, in particular, forced single mothers to rent far away from support networks.

Social researcher Andrew Montague, a former Labour councillor, who lives in the area said that the council shouldn’t house more families with support needs in Ballymun because Tusla the Child and Family Agency doesn’t have the capacity to meet the demand.

Concentrating vulnerable families in one area is a bad idea, he says. “Putting all the vulnerable people together exacerbates the problems for vulnerable people.”

The Backstory

In 2007, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government launched a special report on the regeneration of Ballymun.

A key aim of the regeneration was to increase “tenure diversity”, says the report. In other words, to change what kinds of homes are in the neighbourhood.

The authors wanted to reduce the proportion of social housing from 80 percent to 43 percent, says the report.

The council stopped building new social housing in Ballymun. A national law banned people there from claiming rent supplement.

Locals protested the ban. Independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly said it was “deeply, deeply unfair”.

Especially for young women, who were parenting alone and were forced to look for rental homes far away from their families and supports, she said.

A council spokesperson said the ban on claiming rent supplement in Ballymun never included the housing assistance payment (HAP). HAP is now the main rent subsidy and can be used for rentals in Ballymun, he said.

In any case, in the meanwhile, people kept applying for social homes in the neighbourhood.

In 2006, there were 211 households on the council’s waiting list for social homes in Ballymun, according to the regeneration report.

In April 2021, there were 745 households on the housing list for Area D, which includes Santry as well as Ballymun and Poppintree, shows the council allocations report.

Of those households, 120 had been on the housing list for more than 10 years.

A council spokesperson said: “Because of the existing high concentration of social housing in this particular area there has not been strong community or political support for the construction of significantly further such housing there.”

But Ballymun is one of the few parts of the city where the council still has lots of land, they said.

Because of that, the level of demand there, and the citywide housing crisis, some of that land is now earmarked for social housing, they said.

Also, if councillors agree that the council can buy homes in Ballymun for social housing, it would do that too, said the council’s housing manager, Brendan Kenny, at last Wednesday’s housing committee meeting.

“We will buy them as fast as possible and get them to the families who want them,” he said.

Getting the Right Mix

Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan says the council started to reverse the ban on new social homes in Ballymun when it built 22 rapid-build homesin 2016 for families experiencing homelessness.

An update on the local area plan given to councillors in July 2021, shows plans for social homes on seven sites in the area, as well as cost-rental and affordable-purchase homes.

Most of the social housing will be developed by approved housing bodies, says the report.

It will take two or three years for the new homes to be built, said the council spokesperson.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said youth worker Jamie Harrington, who lives there, over the phone recently.

He would still like to see a mix of different kinds of homes, he says. But for him, that means something like 60 percent social housing, 20 percent affordable purchase and 20 percent cost-rental, he says.

“I’m working-class to the core and I believe we should be mixing with people who are middle class,” he says.

The council needs to consider the housing needs of young single people as well as families, he says. “The rental market is scary.”

Plans to deliver social homes as part of a mix of tenure types make sense, says Connaghan of Sinn Féin. “There is a massive need.”

Some people wrongly equate social housing with anti-social behaviour, says Connaghan. But not building homes is not the solution, he says.

Rather, the small minority of tenants who do engage in anti-social behaviour should face sanctions through the council’s anti-social behaviour policy, says Connaghan. “That all comes down to resources forthcoming from the government.”

Many people from Ballymun are renting in neighbouring areas but still sending their children to school in Ballymun, says Mary Callaghan, the Social Democrats councillor.

Some won’t add any other areas of choice to their housing application because they don’t want to settle anywhere else, she says. “It’s a very tight-knit family community.”

“There is a great community spirit,” Callaghan says. “They love it and they don’t want to move out.”

File photo of people shopping in the centre of Ballymun by Lois Kapila

Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly says that some new social homes will work in Ballymun as long as they are part of the correct mix.

Business owners tell him that it isn’t economically viable to open new shops in areas where there is so little spending power, he says. “We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Ballymun developed differently from other council estates because people in housing estates could buy their houses but those living in flats couldn’t, he says. People who aspired to homeownership left Ballymun as a result, he says.

It is probably a good idea to build social housing in Ballymun, says Michael Byrne, assistant professor in the school of social work, social policy and social justice in UCD.

Given the high demand for homes and the fact that efforts to create a mixed-income community there haven’t worked, he says.

Tenure mix didn’t bring about income mix in Ballymun because a lot of the privately owned homes are rented to social tenants through rent subsidy schemes, he says.

Research has thrown up different results and evidence in relation to the concentration of lower-income people in one area, he said, and it isn’t as conclusive as people think, he said.

A lot of international research says that income mix leads to better services, including public services, and that it can help to alleviate poverty and reduce stigma, he says.

But other researchers found that attempting to create these mixed communities just didn’t work which is what he found when he did research here in Ireland, he says.

“It’s a mixed bag in terms of the evidence,” he says. “There is literature that suggests that it doesn’t always work or some people would say that it totally doesn’t work.”

As well as improving access to services, it is often argued that income mixing is good as contact with more affluent neighbours will help people to create different expectations and social networks, says Byrne.

But his research found that didn’t happen here, because the social housing tenants didn’t mix with the other neighbours.

Together with Michelle Norris, director of the Geary Institute for Public Policy and professor of social policy at UCD, and Anna Carnegie, then a researcher at the University of York, Byrne interviewed social tenants aboutstigma in 2018.

Many of those who had moved to more affluent communities said they would rather go back and live in the areas they came from “so that they could have community”, he says.

“What we found was that the social housing tenants didn’t interact with the non-social housing tenants,” he says. “The social housing tenants felt strongly stigmatised.”

Social Supports

In Ballymun – a Brighter Future, a recent report commissioned by Dublin City Council, the social researcher Andrew Montague flagged, among other issues, a shortage of social services in Ballymun.

Montague says the council should stop housing families with support needs in Ballymun until Tusla can meet the demand for services.

“Tusla’s own internal audit states that children at risk of significant harm were ‘not receiving an effective service’,” says the report.

On Monday, Montague said there is a national shortage of social workers and there are “more attractive places to work than very stressed communities”, he says, so posts in Ballymun aren’t being filled.

Youth workers could be brought in to help plug the gaps, he says, but the government isn’t funding that. “We do need to dramatically increase those supports.”

The council should remain focused on trying to increase the proportion of people in Ballymun who are homeowners, he says.

At the start of the regeneration, homeowners made up 20 percent of the households in Ballymun, and nowadays that number is around 27 percent, he says.

By contrast, the national average is around 70 percent. “We are way out of whack with it is the norm for other communities,” he says.

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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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