Citizens’ agenda
Local elections 2019

Neasa Hourigan

 

My area of Dublin is one of the worst hit areas in the rental and housing crisis so social and affordable housing is top of the agenda. My first action would be to address the skyrocketing rents and frequent evictions that are occurring in Cabra Glasnevin and I have listed a few points on how I would do this in the answer to the second question.

The second issue would be to increase and support the supply of new homes through the creation of new public housing schemes and through the revitalisation of the very high numbers of vacant homes we have in the city. Finally I think it's really important to resist the gentrification of inner-city neighbourhoods so that all but the most well off cannot afford to live in the communities where they grew up and where their extended family still live.

New homes and vacant homes: to build housing we need land. We should introduce a site value tax and increase the vacant site tax to disincentivise land hoarding. No county or city council should sell public land to private developers for building projects. The main housing model supported by the state should be the cost-rental model with provides a long-term asset to the public. Procurement methods for housing developments should be updated to support high quality community creation and foster a skillbase within local authorities on housing provision.

Affordable urban communities: the government should create Community Land Trusts to protect urban communities from property speculation by large financial groups. Local authorities should seek to identify areas under threat and those that are becoming unaffordable. In such areas all new development should require 65 percent social and affordable housing for new planning permissions.

 

Nobody should pay more than 30 percent of their disposable income on rent. The current crisis means we need a set of short-term measures to avoid pushing more people into homelessness and then implement a number of longer policies so that people can be confident that they could live in rental accommodation long term and think of it as home.

Long-term secure rental: we must introduce greater tenants support including long term or "forever" rental agreements that cannot be broken through sale of property.

Rentmanagement: We need an immediate freeze on rent increases while the housing crisis is ongoing. In the long-term, the local authority should employ a system of rent benchmarking similar to the German Mietspiegal which review average rents over a four year term.

Public housing not HAP: I would propose an end to evictions for refurbishment that result in homelessness for a fixed period and that in the longer term the state actively seek to move away from the HAP rental model towards the provision of appropriate, public housing with no upper or lower income limits.

 

I believe it is really important to make a distinction between systemic homelessness that is a result of government inertia and long-term homelessness due to addiction or mental health issues. Homelessness of the second type is more complex than simply providing affordable and suitable housing as I outlined in previous questions. This type of homelessness is as much an issue of health care and public health policy as it is housing. As chair of policy council for the Green Party, I am very much in favour of our drugs policy that decriminalises most drug use and instead focuses on treatment, support and healthcare.

Services and dignity: where homelessness is a result of more complex social issues I believe that every person should have access to health services that are respectful, appropriate, and tailored to their owns needs. This more often than not means services based in the community, received regularly and at low cost.

Housing First: I support the idea that rehabilitation and healing is best done in a stable and secure environment. This means that rather than existing in shelters or halfway housing those struggling with homelessness should have access to a long-term home as a first step to recovery.

Integrated services: One of the most challenging issues facing those in long-term homelessness is the lack of integration and communication between service providers in Ireland. Clear and appropriate lines of communication between mental health services, health services, drug treatment services and housing providers would greatly improve outcomes.

 

There are two main blocks to the efficient use of land in the state at the moment over and above our identification of land and housing as an asset or profit generator. Firstly, the active hoarding of land in order to speculate on future profit and secondly the lack of incentive for building or landowners to return to the market properties that are not in use. Both these conditions can be addressed through a number of actions but we should also try and make active use of accommodation such as "above the shop" that is currently not often thought of as housing.

Site Value Tax and the Vacant Site Levy: I believe that a site value tax would be a fairer and more effective version of the property tax. I also believe it would reduce the profitability of land hoarding.

Vacant sites: I think we should amend the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 to extend the definition of a “vacant site” to include sites below 0.05 hectares. (This would be particularly important in a highly urban area like Cabra Glasnevin.) We should also dramatically increase the levy placed on derelict sites.

Vacant homes and other opportunities: I believe that we should further empower local authorities to CPO homes that have been vacant for over a year and make it as straightforward as possible for them to utilise them as housing. We should also think about underused spaces such as housing units "above the shop" where building owners could be incentivised to refurbish premises for this use.

 

To improve public transport I would like to see us redefine what public transport is. At the moment, and even within these questions, there is space to talk about public transport (buses, trains, Luas etc), private transport (motor cars) and cycling. But there isn't always the space to talk about the individual moving around the city. I would suggest that a Dubliner walking through the public realm of the city on their way to work or the shops is also part of the public transport system. In fact they are the very first building block in that system, but we often forget them. I would suggest that every kid that scoots to school is engaged in transport and it is a very public version of transport so lets include that too.

Streets are the first step in public transport. The very first thing I would do to improve public transport would be to bring a new focus on the experience of the pedestrian. I would like to see a full audit of every footpath and crossing in the city. I will be asking the council to set a standard for pedestrian surfaces and to nominate a footpath champion to walk the city so that every street is suitable for its most vulnerable user.

Small system, big system. I believe that no one mode of transport will solve the city's transport problems and that only a tapestry of well-integrated and varied solutions will allow people to leave the car at home. So you may walk to the bus stop (on a good path), hop off the bus, get a Dublinbike to the library and then go home on the Luas. This will require some very long-term planning and some decent funding. Perhaps most importantly it will require different agencies and authorities to talk to each other and to the general public in a transparent and honest way.

Complimentary ideas: one of the areas we are weakest in, in Ireland, is coming to terms with all the details-based user-orientated issues that really make a difference when you're using public transport. Do you have a ticket that you can use on every mode of transport? Does the ticket pricing make sense across multi-leg journeys? Are the interchanges close to each other? Does every node point have a shelter and a point of information? These are the little things we need to get right to achieve the big ideas.

 

As part of my involvement with the Irish Pedestrian Network, I am a signatory on the "Active Travel, Health and Climate Action Call" to government to properly fund modes of active travel in the state. This request is as much about the excellent health benefits of cycling as it is about the huge and beneficial impacts it has on our transport-based carbon emissions.

More funding: I have already lent my support to the call from the CyclingForAll campaign to allocate 20 percent of all capital transport funding to cycling infrastructure.

A clear plan for cycling infrastructure: I believe that our current best practice in road design for cyclists is below par compared to other countries. We need segregated lanes, preferred routes and a clear hierarchy of the road to protect more vulnerable road users from motorcars.

Appropriate policy: Current government-funded bodies such as the Road Safety Authority have a chequered history in supporting cyclists and often place the responsibility on the more vulnerable road user to "light up" or be seen rather than asking motorists to be more careful. We need to create clear policy principles for transport, climate and health to support cycling.

 

We tend to think of climate change as something that happens at a national and international level but there is so much we can do locally to make a difference. I fully support Dublin City Council undertaking a Climate Action Plan. Implementing it will be the first step towards change.

Carbon budgets: For decades, we have relied exclusively on GDP and fiscal budgets to inform policy and implementation. We now know that the climate crisis requires us to look beyond those narrow considerations and start to budget for the next generation and their right to live free from climate chaos. Yearly carbon budgets for all state agencies and local authorities would allow us to plan our move away from a carbon heavy economy

All the answers: there is no one answer to how to combat our climate overheating. We need to change our way of operating and let that change move into every sector of our society. As someone who worked in the construction sector in environmental design I have first-hand experience of taking every component of a building and looking at it with fresh (climate-action) eyes. We need to remake our building sector, our agriculture, our textile industry, our transport methods, and so on.

Change is coming, it needs to be fair: I am a huge supporter of just-transition policies that make sure that where old carbon-heavy or polluting industries are wound down, the workers involved in them are retrained, upskilled and found work in new environmentally responsible industries such as renewables. I am also an advocate of universal basic income which would provide everyone with a baseline income below which they couldn't fall and which would lift thousands of children and families out of poverty.

 

We tend to think of litter and dog poo as minor irritants in daily life but they can have a big impact for some people. A street littered with dog poo can be impassable for a family with a buggy or someone in a wheelchair.

Enforcement: probably the most useful action to take on illegal dumping and dog fouling would be proper enforcement of the existing laws. Almost no dog fouling tickets were given out in Dublin last year. This is partly because our local authorities are hugely underfunded compared with our European counterparts and one of the biggest areas affected by this enforcement services.

The quality of the street: I believe we should introduce street wardens who would focus on achieving safe and pleasant streets. Such street wardens would have powers to deliver fines for dog fouling, illegal dumping, littering and illegal parking and could also work with the community to identify broken footpaths and obstructions.

Community action: although communities shouldn't have to collect litter, active community involvement in keeping streets free of fly tipping and dog fouling is really important.

 

Here's my four-point plan to green-up our local neighbourhoods and make sure all our families and friends have access to green space, clean air and a healthy environment.

Take back the tarmac: we need to protect and expand the green areas we already have. This means fighting for our existing mature trees, insisting on well-tended and biodiverse planting in public areas and replanting the very many verge areas and tree bases that were once green, and are now covered in tarmac. Green resources in the city do an important job helping to reduce air pollution and supporting our wellbeing.

Places for pocket parks: our area of Dublin is densely populated and diverse. We could make great use of small-scale green space on sites that are unsuitable for other development or adjacent to new builds. We could have dedicated uses such as sensory parks, pocket parks, bee-friendly parks, dog parks and many others.

Rewilding Cabra Glasnevin: You don’t need to release wolves into the area to really make a difference to our urban wildlife! Increasing our green amenities by implementing the two points above would give birds, insects and small animals places to rest and feed in what can be a harsh urban environment. Dublin City Council could also encourage wildlife by planting indigenous, bee-friendly plants and making sure water sources are available around the area.

The public realm should be publicly owned: the recent privatisation of the public realm in some of the new docklands areas in Dublin have been a harsh lesson in how private business has separate and distinct priorities to those of local authorities. Streets and the public realm should always be vested in public hands.

 
  1. Conserve existing large parks: Dublin is unique in so far as we have a decent proportion of green space but this is distributed in large blocks like the Phoenix Park and St Anne's Park. Having large-scale parkland is a massive resource for the city (see my previous answer for how we should roll out a scheme of pocket parks across the city). You can achieve all sorts of amenities and improve biodiversity in those large areas in a way that you simply couldn't with smaller parks. We should ring fence those larger parks as nature preservation areas that have an active plan for indigenous planting and rewilding and then look at how we can allow the public to experience those incredibly important aspects of the city in a way that supports their well-being, their health and their families. All the councils in the Dublin area should undertake to no further building development on those sites other than optimising existing facilities. We should also be mindful not to allow those large chunks of nature to be "used up" as only sports facilities. Sports facilities are important but they are not a good substitute for natural habitats and terrains.

  2. Deepen our connection to green space: We all know someone who has lived in our area but is surprised to find out there is a park or green space on their doorstep. If we really want to protect and support our parks we need to foster a connection between the public and the green space they own. Local children and their schools could be a key way to do this – we should encourage our kids to spend time outside in a natural setting. Schools should adopt a park and bring kids for walks in nature, support them to ask questions and make observations about the natural world around us as we embark on a replanting and rewilding process. We have a policy that every child in primary school in the country should be entitled to two weeks of learning in nature, either in a block or one day a week over a term.

  3. Safer and cleaner green areas: It is really important that people feel their parks are safe places to be as the best green spaces are often ones where you feel alone in nature. As we have seen with the battle on scramblers in Tolka Park policing of parks is sometimes a grey area and proper funding would be required to ensure a feeling of confidence for park users. Finally along with many of my Green Party colleagues I use parks on a "leave no trace" basis. "Leave no trace" is a set of ethics for interacting with the outdoors in a thoughtful, sustainable manner. Some of the basics include planning ahead to minimise waste, taking care not to disturb plants and animals, and only BBQing etc. in appropriate areas.

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