Council Briefs: Safer Communities in Council Housing, and Zoning for Affordable Housing

Dublin City Council has issued 19 formal warnings to tenants in its social housing so far this year for serious and persistent anti-social behaviour.

That’s up from 10 formal warnings last year. If tenants breach these warnings, that can lead to the council applying for exclusion orders and possession orders.

An exclusion order bars an individual from a property or a street or estate. A possession order evicts an entire household.

The council is currently moving to bar three people from social-housing estates using exclusion orders, and to repossess one property too, said Alice Simington, the council senior executive officer in a presentation to councillors on the housing committee on 8 December.

The exclusion orders and possession orders have to be decided by the courts, she said.

The council is currently working on a new strategy on anti-social behaviour and estate management and councillors on the housing committee welcomed the report.

Councillors and a community development worker said previously that anti-social behaviour by a small minority of council tenants is disrupting whole areas and that the council was not doing enough to tackle it.

“Some areas have suffered from serious criminality in recent years, including open drug dealing,” said Simington.

That happens in hotspots within certain areas and isn’t prevalent across a whole neighbourhood, she said.

A tiny percentage of people are engaged in anti-social or criminal behaviour, but they are having a disproportionate impact, Simington said.

From 2005 to 2016, Dublin City Council didn’t have enough skilled staff to tackle anti-social behaviour, she said.

But the council is currently training staff, streamlining its procedure and communicating rights and responsibilities to all tenants, she said.

Where possible it is best to support people to stay in their homes, Simington said. But if it is not, the council can go to court for a possession order to carry out an eviction under the Housing Act 2014.

The burden of proof is much higher than for a private landlord or an Approved Housing Body, a not-for-profit which owns and manages social homes, because the council is governed by different legislation.

“The judge must decide does the punishment fit the offence and the punishment we are seeking is to make the individual homeless,” said Simington. The anti-social behaviour has to be bad enough to be proportionate to that, she said.

At the moment, human-rights considerations are around the rights of those suspected of offences, she said. “We don’t at this moment in time have a victim-focused situation in Ireland.”

By contrast, the UK system focuses more on the rights of the victim, said Simington. “We will need to learn from other jurisdictions on that note.”

Councillors agreed to hold a special meeting to discuss the report on anti-social behaviour.

“It’s a really important issue,” said Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey, who chairs the housing committee.

Said independent Councillor Cieran Perry: “It is an excellent report.”

Another Idea for Social and Affordable Zoning

Why not require any housing proposed for land zoned as Z15 to be social or affordable? asked Claire McManus, housing spokesperson with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, at the meeting of the council’s housing committee on 8 December.

At the moment, A Z15 zoning means land should primarily be developed for community and social uses, like healthcare facilities, schools, religious institutions or community spaces.

Housing can be allowed too, though. It’s “open for consideration” on Z15 lands, which means the owner has to make a case for why it should be allowed, says McManus, who sits, along with Dublin city councillors, on the council’s housing committee.

In 2018, An Bord Pleanála granted permission for high-rise apartments at St Paul’s playing pitches in Clontarf, beside St Anne’s Park, which was zoned Z15 – though that planning permission was later quashed by the High Court.

Under the new draft city development plan for 2022 to 2028, which is out for consultation, housing wouldn’t be allowed on Z15 lands, except student housing attached to a college on the site, or retirement homes.

McManus said at the housing committee meeting that public or affordable housing could be allowed on those lands too.

On the phone on Tuesday, she said that allowing small-scale affordable housing development on Z15 land would “align with the community goals” envisaged in that zoning.

If zoning didn’t exist, all landowners would naturally want to build the most profitable developments and that would lead to unbalanced development of the city, she says.

“No one expects someone selling a site to decide to go for a lower bid to support affordable housing,” she says.

So there is a need to zone land specifically for public or affordable housing, which would keep the land value low and allow affordable-housing projects to progress, she said.

She isn’t the first to suggest a social-and-affordable-housing zoning. Councillors voted in November to create such a new zoning in the draft development plan, but were told that doing so was not in line with national legislation – so it’s unclear how it will pan out.

Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey welcomed McManus’ proposal as innovative. Councillors will discuss all submissions on the city development plan at a later date, 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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