Citizens’ agenda
Local elections 2019

Sean McCabe

 

Local authorities must get back into the business of building social housing. The Irish League of Credit Unions have offered the government a €5 billion loan to fund the building of thousands of homes. It seems like a no-brainer to use these funds instead of seeking private foreign investment. I would push hard for local authorities to be empowered to borrow for housing provision and then seek to secure a partnership between the Irish League of Credit Unions and Dublin City Council to increase funding available to the council to build social housing. These loans would be remunerated using cost rents and the proceeds of property taxes.

We won’t get out of the housing crisis by following the same approach that got us into it. We must end the financialisaton of the housing market in Dublin as well as any delusion that the for-profit sector can deliver social and affordable homes at the necessary scale. Instead of committing funds to the building of new social housing units, current policy continues to effectively subsidise private landlords and rely on tax incentives to stimulate construction activities. This is inefficient and wasteful, not to mention immoral.

Dublin City Council must ensure the existing social housing is sustainable. I would table a motion to suspend the ability of social housing tenants to purchase their houses. Ultimately, this serves to remove properties from the social housing stock at a loss to the local council. I would push for a review of the Local Government Accounting Code of Practice to bring it into line with international standards of transparency and disclosure for councils’ housing operations. I would advocate for a reduction in property tax redistribution and ringfence the additional funding, along with income from council housing rents, for use on further social housing development.

Finally, I would table a motion to have Dublin sign on to the Municipal Declaration of Local Governments for the Right to Housing and the Right to the City. It’s a symbolic declaration, but it highlights common challenges like socio-spatial segregation, financialization and housing market speculation, as well as the urgent need to put in place sound strategies for addressing them.

 

On the immediate horizon, it is essential that the regulations on short-term letting, like accommodation let through Airbnb, are robustly implemented in order to add stock to the rental market. I would pursue private and public channels to ensure the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government provide adequate funding to Dublin City Council to establish a dedicated team to enforce the new legislation. There are currently over 9,500 properties in Dublin listed on Airbnb. Returning a bulk of these to the rental market will help to reduce rents. But the cost of implementation is not trivial, potentially €750,000, and this would need to come from central government.

I would look to build a coalition of support for a motion to create a Dublin City Council-managed, publicly searchable index of the rents charged by landlords on a property-by-property basis. This would help ensure that landlords can’t flout current rent controls and raise rents significantly when taking in new tenants.

In the longer term, I would support and seek to build a constituency of demand behind any motions that seek to adopt European models of mixed-income renting provided by public bodies. Dublin City Council has recently expressed its full support for a cost-rental model of housing – publicly owned housing for all income brackets with rent that is fair and fixed.

Such models are not new. They have existed elsewhere for the duration of this crisis, and many in Ireland have been calling for their implementation here for years. A 2017 report by the NERI institute, "Ireland’s Housing Emergency – Time for a Game Changer", lays out a roadmap that should be followed. But this can’t be implemented at council level alone and needs the national legislation.

 

I would seek the advice of people who dedicate their lives to supporting people who have, or are currently, experiencing homelessness. To my mind, the real solution to end homelessness is to offer permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, and then provides the supportive services and connections to the community-based supports people need to keep their housing and avoid returning to homelessness. Dublin City Council must pursue a “Housing First” approach to ending homelessness.

Beyond addressing the economic drivers of homelessness, by increasing the supply of social housing and reducing rents, emergency steps need to be taken to ensure the current housing crisis does not worsen. I would use my position to call for a temporary ban on evictions by banks, vulture funds and landlords of tenants for monitory reasons. I would also advocate for the expansion of the “mortgage to rent” scheme to provide a broader safety net for the thousands of families in mortgage arrears.

We also have to put in place measures that support people recovering from homelessness to reintegrate back into society. I’m a Director of My Streets Ireland, a social enterprise that empowers individuals who have experienced homelessness to become walking-tour guides of their town through the provision of necessary training and support. I have seen the transformative effect that the programme has had for graduates and I would like to see more initiatives and supports like this established.

 

This is an area where provisions do exist, and the question is whether they can be made more effective. I would be in favour of increasing the fine for properties on the Vacant Sites Register and the Derelict Sites Register beyond the proposed 7 percent. We need to ensure that space is not going to waste, and the future of these properties are resolved faster, while still maintaining due diligence and not negatively impacting on home owners in vulnerable situations, for instance, by protecting houses that are part of the Fair Deal. I would also seek to ensure that the funds raised from the levy imposed on landlords of vacant and derelict sites would be ringfenced for social and affordable housing.

 

As many are aware, plans are ongoing regarding the development of BusConnects and the Metro. While the decision-making power for these processes primarily sits with the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, I would want to see, and advocate for, a much greater interchange between Dublin City Council and these national bodies.

It is imperative that communities are viewed as implementing partners in the development of these transport initiatives, so as to develop a future transport system that works for commuters and the communities living in the city. So far, this has not happened, and I would use my position as councillor to advocate for a more thorough and sincere approach to public participation in this area.

We need a much more effective and efficient public transport system in Dublin, both for improved quality of life and in order to make real progress on climate change. We need to incentivise the use of public transport, as well as cycling. I would seek expert advice on how to introduce a congestion charge, between the canals, which could be used to subsidise the cost of public transport. I want to see the cost of public transport decreasing, not increasing as it currently is.

 

Two clear messages have emerged on the doorsteps. On the one hand, a lot of people have told us that more must be done to protect cyclists. On the other, we hear concern, particularly from older people, about being hurt by cyclists while walking.

Appropriately designed infrastructure would protect vulnerable road users, not pit them against each other. The troubling situation that currently exists stems from the fact that roads are viewed as a facility for cars primarily and other road users are an afterthought in the design process. The result is an inefficient and dangerous system.

Being a cyclist in Dublin, as well as a driver, I know which situation I feel safer in. A cycle through Dublin in morning traffic can feel like a video game. Cyclists are quite inexplicably put in bus lanes, a scenario which is precarious for all involved, but only potentially fatal for the person on the bicycle. Similarly, they often have to navigate past cars parked in cycle lanes which forces them into traffic. A nuisance for drivers, but again, only potentially fatal to the cyclist.

There are solutions that would alleviate these challenges and make our roads safer for all. These are laid out by the Cycling for All Campaign. I would push for their implementation throughout the city.

The Cycling for All Campaign is also advocating for decision-makers to provide funding for walking and cycling amounting to at least 20 percent of the capital budget for transport every year. I just took a quick look at the latest census figures where, in Dublin, 27 percent of people (that is 205,508 people) indicated walking or cycling as their primary means of transport. So 20 percent of the budget seems only fair!

 

I have spent the last five years working with Mary Robinson on climate justice. Local action on climate change and sustainable development is a core motivating factor for my entering this election race. I am pleased and relieved that Dublin City Council is now home to the Dublin Metropolitan Climate Action Regional Office and I will support the work of that team to the hilt. There are dedicated people doing hard work in the name of climate action in Dublin already, including Codema, the energy efficiency agency, and they need to be fully resourced to realise the ambition of the Dublin local authorities' Climate Change Action Plans which were recently published for consultation.

I want to see Dublin become recognised as a global leader on climate action. Within the next three years, I want to see the city established as a leading member of the Compact of Mayors, the world’s largest cooperative effort among mayors and city officials to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks in cities. I also want Dublin to become a member of the C40 Cities network – a group of cities globally that are taking bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future.

By working with, and listening to, communities, Dublin City Council can ensure that local climate action is effective and delivers tangible benefits to the people living in the city – benefits like reduced heating and electricity bills; safer, cleaner transport systems; and a greater supply of fresh, locally sourced produce.

I would like to see the establishment of local assemblies on climate action and sustainable development, to allow the public to learn about, and contribute to, the fight against climate breakdown. In Phibsborough, I have been working with the Ladder to run a new initiative that is helping the community take local action to tackle global challenges. One night a week for the next six weeks, the public will come together to work on three projects focused on enhancing the local environment and the local community. The best thing is, anyone can take part.

 

This is one of the most challenging issues to resolve in the city. There can be no doubt that more resources are needed to tackle littering. But there’s also cultural and economic factors at play, particularly in terms of illegal dumping.

Illegal dumping is an issue of environmental justice. Though there is debate about the drivers of illegal dumping, there can be no doubt that the burden falls heaviest on communities with greater socio-economic disadvantage.

Solutions must use environmental justice frameworks and tackle the social dynamics that lead to these outcomes, such as inequality and poverty. It was wrong that waste collection in the city was privatised. I would use my position to call for a reversal of that decision. Our taxes should cover waste collection, plain and simple.

I would like to see recycling incentivised – so that there is little or no cost for disposal of recyclable waste. I would also like to see a more comprehensive approach to biodegradable waste. I would need to engage with experts in this area to best understand how to achieve this.

As for the dog poo, again, we need more resources, more bag stations and more bins for disposal (which would of course need regularly collection). We also need greater monitoring and enforcement of fouling charges. The real concern I have is for the people who pick up dog poo, and bag it, and then put it back on the street. Who are these people?! I’d love one of them to reach out to me, even anonymously, so that I could understand their motives and maybe then take action to address it!

Last week, doing a canal clean-up in Phibsborough, I pulled two traffic barriers, a couple of tyres and a bicycle out of the canal. You can’t legislate for that kind of wilful disregard for our environment. There is a need for increased awareness of the value of our environment and a greater sense of pride of place in much of our cities. I would support any awareness-raising campaigns that set out to achieve this.

 

With this, we are not starting from scratch. The current Dublin City Council Development Plan makes provision for innovative greening strategies and the Local Environment Improvement Plans that exist similarly provide for enhanced green spaces. I will work to ensure these provisions are fully resourced and implemented. I would support the mandatory green roofing of municipal buildings and new developments. Green roofing is provided for in the current Dublin City Council Development Plan and must become the norm across the city.

We must be careful the need and urgency to build housing does not override the need for green spaces in the city. Pocket parks, small publicly accessible green areas, these can be developed in certain derelict sites in areas where green space is lacking. The current development plan is not as strong as it might be on urban farms and allotments for community gardening. We know there is an appetite out there for more allotments – waiting lists for access to them continue to grow.

I would support measures to proliferate the number of community accessible allotments in areas that are unsuitable for housing. There are many groups out there who are already hard at work developing a spirit of community gardening across the city. I would look to engage with active resident groups and organisations like Conservation Volunteers Ireland and GIY Ireland to understand what works and what doesn’t, in order to reflect their experience in decision-making.

In existing parks, we need to do more to reflect the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020 in how these spaces are planted. Biodiversity collapse is imminent unless we take urgent, concerted action to reverse species loss. We can play our part in Dublin and I would work with colleagues, residents and local organisations to develop a city-wide plan rapidly increase biodiversity in the city.

 

This is a particularly prevalent issue for Phibsborough right now. The impasse that currently exists between MM Capital and Tescos regarding the redevelopment of the shopping centre threatens the preferred conceptual redesign of Dalymount Park which include a main entrance and civic space via lands owned by MM Capital. Phibsborough needs a village centre. It is a community divided by the roads that dominate it. The proposed civic space would be invaluable to the community. I will do all I can, through Dublin City Council and the public platform afforded by the role, to push for a resolution to this impasse that works for the community.

If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you will get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you will get people and places. I will advocate that the BusConnects development does the latter. We need to ensure that investments are made to ensure that the development improves the wellbeing of the communities it passes through. I would advocate for funds to be made available to communities along Core Bus Corridors for the participatory budgeting of landscaping. Public participation in the design of the public realm is essential. Communities can give life to the process, by providing historical context, insights as to how an area functions and an understanding of what is meaningful to the community. By enabling participation, we can create a sense of ownership in urban development that can ensure its success.

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