Citizens’ agenda
Local elections 2019

Catherine Stocker

Social Democrats candidate for Clontarf
 

If elected, measures to address the housing and homelessness crisis will be my number one priority. I have made this clear throughout my campaign, and have supported all protests and demonstrations by both the National Housing and Homelessness Coalition and Raise the Roof.

Every day, I speak with people in the Clontarf LEA [local election area] whose lives are impacted on by the need for housing. I meet young families who are renting and living in fear of rent increases, or of evictions. I meet people in situations of overcrowding, who have been on the housing list for up to a decade. I meet adults living with their parents because they can’t afford Dublin’s excessive rents or house prices. This is an issue which is blighting people’s lives and leading to increased anxiety and damaged childhoods.

I will commit to using the extensive residentially zoned public land available to Dublin City Council to build affordable homes for both rent and purchase. I believe we need to adopt the cost-rental model seen in Vienna to deliver public housing that people can afford to rent and still have quality of life. I would also call for the replication, across the city, of the successful Ó Cualann housing model which has delivered low-cost housing in Poppintree. This is a prime example of the role that Dublin City Council can play in facilitating affordable housing. I will ensure that every significant council housing proposal is subject to public consultation, has a proper master plan, has a good social and tenure mix, and that amenities and services are central to all significant plans.

The government’s reliance on the private market to resolve this crisis has failed. We need to change our housing system around so that its aim is to deliver housing at its lowest possible cost to purchasers and renters, instead of generating the highest possible profit for developers and land speculators.

 

Rents have been pushed out of control in Dublin by a number of factors, including real estate investment trusts [REITs], the Housing Assistance Payment [HAP] and short-term letting as seen with Airbnb. This situation benefits no one. Renters are put under extreme financial pressure, and employers and businesses are suffering, from both a lack of rental accommodation for employees and from increased wage pressure due to high rents.

The tax benefits enjoyed by REITs allow them to buy property in bulk, giving them an unfair advantage over first-time buyers and ensures that rental properties are supplied only to the most expensive end of the market. The Social Democrats are committed to ending this preferential tax treatment of REITs, and to the regulation of these bulk-buying practices.

The over-reliance on Housing Assistance Payment works for no one except the major landlords. It leads to greater demand for rental housing, which only inflates prices for those looking to rent privately. I believe that the best way to move away from HAP is the provision of public housing. I would advocate for a transition away from the reliance on the Housing Assistance Payment, and expansion of the role of cost-rental. We should be exploring how the Vienna Model could be applied in Ireland, to destigmatise public housing and bring rents down to affordable levels for all.

I welcome the limits imposed on Airbnb lettings, which remove a substantial proportion of properties from the Dublin rental market. I am concerned, however, with how these regulations will be enforced.

I am committed to a number of measures improving conditions for renters, including an immediate rent freeze pending greater supply of social and affordable housing, greater security of tenure and a rental register to make the previous rental prices of properties more transparent. The Social Democrats’ bill to reduce the risk of homelessness by extending notice-to-quit periods for renters has been accepted by government, and now forms part of the government’s Residential Tenancies Bill.

 

We must stem the flow of people from private rented accommodation into homelessness. This can be achieved through some of the measures above, including immediate rent freezes, greater tenure security, and by ensuring that more rental properties are available in the short term until more public housing becomes available, through regulation of short-term lets like Airbnb.

I will absolutely prioritise resolutions to the family homelessness scandal. We are doing untold damages to these parents and children, by forcing them to spend their precious childhoods in emergency accommodation. The burden of anxiety and shame for these families is absolutely unacceptable. Dublin City Council must agree to new homelessness procedures so that children’s rights are considered and respected when council officials deal with homeless families.

Furthermore, the Social Democrats will insist on the development of a youth homelessness strategy for each council that we are represented on. In particular, I am committed to finding strategies to support young people leaving care, and ensuring that they do not face homelessness.

 

I’ve been out in canvassing in my area for nearly a year now and when you’re knocking on doors you see just how many of those doors are vacant or derelict. It impacts negatively on the communities and houses around derelict properties and it’s a terrible waste given our housing situation. The Social Democrats will work to ensure that Dublin City Council has sufficient full-time vacant housing officers and that their remit will extend beyond the current two years. We will use this service to bring hundreds of vacant units back into use.

It has also been brought to my attention how many vacant properties belong to elderly people in nursing homes and, at present, the incentive to let these out is low, as up to 80 percent of the rental income would be clawed back by the Fair Deal Scheme. I believe we need to incentivise the letting of these properties, and that we should examine avenues to exclude rental income of a primary residence from the Fair Deal Scheme. We will seek to use compulsory purchase orders where appropriate, and nationally, we favour the introduction of compulsory letting orders and a vacant unit tax.

 

Improving public transport is a key priority for my campaign. At present, Ireland has one of the highest rates of car usage in Europe, at 84 percent. This didn’t happen by accident. It has come from longstanding neglect of public transport investment. We’ve seen abandoned and delayed public transport plans time after time, through successive governments. Our national inability to adopt and implement long-term plans comes back to haunt us, again and again. At a local level, plans for evidence-based improvements and public transport schemes are often prevented by local politicians stoking fears amongst residents.

The Social Democrats are committed to significant investment in public transport. I believe that the National Development Plan should be redrawn so that public transport and cycling are re-prioritised over road expenditure. This simply has to happen if we are to reduce our carbon emissions in the transport sector and if we want to be in a position to plan for additional housing and sustainable communities. The Social Democrats would like to see no or low fare public transport pilot schemes in Ireland, but in order to increase capacity, this must go hand in hand with increased investment.

I will use every power available to me as a local councillor to facilitate the expansion of public transport services in this community and in the city as a whole. I will advocate for putting transport planning at the heart of all significant housing plans. It is also vital that the needs of people with disabilities are heard and responded to, and that universal accessibility is central in all transport decisions affecting our council areas.

 

I am absolutely committed to improving cycling infrastructure in our city. Cycling is an issue of both quality of life and of equality, and I will aim to do everything I can to make our city both safe and enjoyable for cyclists of all ages and levels. The benefits are too many to list, from decreased pollution, congestion, and carbon emissions, to a healthier and more active population. Increased cycling will improve commute times, and contribute to safer streets and more liveable neighbourhoods.

Ireland is significantly behind much of Europe in cycling policy. We need to recognise that cycling is a major transport area which can contribute hugely to society, and fund it as such. As I councillor I would commit to significantly improving funding for cycling, improving infrastructure and segregation necessary for safe cycling, and increasing cycling greenways and urban bike schemes, specifically extending the DublinBikes project to the Clontarf LEA [local election area]. I would also like to see safe cycling to school, improved tax schemes for cyclists, and the implementation and training of cycling officers.

 

Climate Change is the single biggest threat to our environment, our living standards, and our existence. On both an environmental and an economic level, it is vital that we respond to this threat urgently. We simply cannot keep kicking this can down the road – the buck stops here, with our generation. Nationally, I would favour a Green New Deal, by putting renewable energy, green collar jobs, and investment in green technologies at the centre of government policy, with a focus on a just transition. On Dublin City Council, I will push strong long-term planning of sustainable communities, support cycling and public transport, promote biodiversity, recycling, and strong anti-dumping measures, and I will encourage new energy solutions.

 

Dumping and dog fouling have a really negative impact on our daily experience of the city and it’s an area where I feel DCC could be doing more. Some of the measures I would support at council level include:

–Naming and shaming policy for people found guilty of illegal dumping and using technology wherever feasible to catch culprits.

–Increased availability of public bins and particularly of bins for dog fouling. I would like to see bags made available with these bins to encourage clean-up of dog poo. It’s also vital that bins are emptied regularly enough as often they are overflowing.

–For both illegal dumping and dog fouling it’s vital that fines are applied and enforced. There must be a substantial deterrent to this antisocial behaviour.

–Public facilities for disposal of non-recyclable material should have longer weekend and evening opening hours. The easier it is to dispose of unwanted goods the less likely there will be a problem with dumping.

 

Here in the Clontarf local electoral area we’re pretty lucky in terms of green spaces – the beautiful St Anne’s is at our doorstep and local parks and playgrounds such as Fairview and Maypark are excellent amenities also. I would like to see an increase in pocket parks and greater use of smaller green areas. In my own neighbourhood of Donnycarney, the Mucky Lane Project, which I have had some involvement with, is a fantastic example of a community coming together to make use of an unused and unloved green area. The space has been planted with flowers of all kinds – blooming from the first snowdrops onwards – and fruit trees. Local residents have built insect hotels to encourage biodiversity and it’s a pollinator’s paradise. Dublin City Council and the parks department have been very supportive of this project and I’d love to see it replicated across the city. Another local campaign I’d like to see given priority is a playground for Rockfield Park – there’s an obvious area in the park for a playground and local parents and grandparents are crying out for it.

 

I’m in favour of increasing the number of pedestrianised areas and quietways. The Social Democrats would love to see Dublin City Council prioritise recreation, play and sport and make our city a place for play as well as work. In other European cities I’ve visited I’ve seen life-sized games such as chess in public areas and would love to see more of this in Dublin. In addition, we need to think about recreation facilities for teenagers and consult with them as to what would best suit their needs. In my local area I see teens hanging around the children’s playground in the evening and it’s easy to blame them but what are we doing about alternatives?

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