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13 August 1998 Edition

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Dublin's housing crisis hits poorest - an investigation by Roisín de Rossa

Semi-detached with spacious garden and sea view. Sold. £5.6million.

Meanwhile there are 6,000 on Dublin City's housing list, 7,500 on the transfer list, 2,500 on the senior citizen list and 1,254 on the homeless list. On top there are those who are not registered at all. Clearly something very wrong.

``Altogether there are about 3,000 homeless in this city,'' says Sinn Fein Councillor Christy Burke. But last year the Council built just 123 units, and acquired just 127 houses. ``From 1997 on the funds used to build or acquire housing will be diverted to regeneration,'' says Evelyn Hanlon of the Dublin Corporation Housing Department in a paper on housing in the city.

``There is a housing crisis which is exploding in our faces, which can only be dealt with at Government level. It is urgent that it is dealt with. It is a catastrophe,'' says Christy Burke. ``Every Wednesday evening I have people coming to me desperately seeking a place. There are 20 requests for every house which comes available.''

And at his constituency surgery they queue, one distraught person after another. A mother whose husband took a brain haemorrhage. They have four kids. They have been in B&B since 1986. Every week she is in to see the housing department with her two little girls - for a place for when the husbands comes out of hospital.

Anne (not her real name) in a two bedroom flat with four boys of her own, took her sister, whose husband was beating and imprisoning her, and her two daughters into the flat to give them somewhere to get away.

A young couple with three kids under three, in a one room flat, four years on the waiting list and `cracking up' on the top floor where she can't let the kids out to play.

And so the queue went into Christy's `advice' evening, and left. A list of desperation, of unhappiness, of childhoods gnarled and lost in bitterness and hopelessness.

Where did it start? The crisis has its roots in1985 when Fianna Fáil started to sell off any public land to the private sector. Now report after report talks of returning emigrants, of the peaking of the baby boom, the refugees, the astronomic increases in house prices and private rented accommodation, and says there is no land upon which to build the social housing that is so urgently needed.

But they don't mention the huge developments in the Inner City, the duplicating shopping centres and the private flats for sale at £100K a piece. This is the Celtic Tiger on the prowl, looking to lend money, looking for land to develop, to build houses which are far beyond the reach of the Corporation to acquire for shared ownership. The Corpo is limited to £65K and so are the tenants on wages, or benefits of £130 a week or less.

But there have been changes too. ``Coming out of the drugs campaign in the Inner City when people took to the streets with the concerned parents against heroin dealers, it put hope back in their lives,'' Christy says. ``The days of a developer giving a couple of lads a job on security have gone. People are making demands for local employment, and the developers are paying attention.

``Now you have women at the end of a phone saying `I want you at that meeting', women who are telling the builders, or the architects, that they are not happy with the plans, and building has to stop. And it does stop.

``When the new city Manager, John Fitzgerald, came in, me and Tony Gregory took him round Dublin City's housing. I believe he was genuinely shocked. He vowed he would listen to the people on the ground.''

When 360 flats in Sheriff Street were demolished, 340 were rehoused in houses. 20 left the area. Is it a sign of things changing?

There are exciting developments going ahead: the 10 year project to demolish and rebuild Ballymun, the HARP plan (which provides a park for picnics outside the Special Criminal Court), the Docklands Authority which targets 10% of the 1,300 acre site development for `affordable' houses.

There is the North Inner City Rejuvenation Plan, not to mention the £4 million earmarked for a prize winning idea of what to do in the place of Nelson and his column. The face of Dublin is changing.

Christy has called for a special meeting of the Council which will take place in September/October. The meeting is to discuss his proposal that it should be a planning condition of any further private development that a percentage be given over to public housing.

``But the housing crisis is so serious that it must now be addressed by the Minister of Environment, by the Government. It cannot any longer be left to the council... .But it's the time it all takes. How long must people wait for the Corporation to fulfil its obligation to provide suitable and adequate accommodation for those on the waiting list?''

St Joseph's Mansions - the forgotten flats

  The Celtic Tiger is not stopping here... he's up on the Expressway. He just ate us for breakfast and left his droppings behind  
Geraldine Toner (Chairperson of Joseph's Mansion/Killarney Street/Avenue Residents Association)

In 1982 plans were drawn up to renovate the 138 flats of St Joseph's Mansions in the heart of Dublin's North Inner City, half a mile from O'Connell Street. Sixteen years on they are still waiting. There are 47 flats occupied, with 50 or 60 children living there. The rest are walled up like dungeons for rats, housing the memories of the pests which made the lives of the remaining tenants 16 years of hell.

``We went through hell and high water,'' says Teresa Hart who still lives in Joseph's Mansions, with her two children, Dessie, 18, and Gemma, who is nearly six. ``They are not knocking them down. They're going to make offices or something. I'm not moving out, away from the area. I'll die first, after all we've been through''.

``It was the drugs first that ruined it. It was a supermarket. They came from everywhere. You couldn't get out the front gate. You were afraid to leave the house. The old people were terrified.''

``I'd be up at five in the morning to clean the front door brasses and stuff - in case they thought I was watching them,'' says Geraldine Toner, Chairperson of the tenants. ``Sure when we started trying to organise the tenants committee, it was like MI5. Going to secret meetings, and them following us. I didn't dare tell anyone that I was pregnant... I kept it secret in case they thought they'd an advantage. The abuse we took. It was terrible. Terrible for the kids.''

``It seemed impossible to stop the dealing. The Garda did nothing. With the Housing Act of 1996, things changed. You could look for evictions on grounds of anti-social behaviour. But what with appeals, delays, judicial reviews, the dealers are still not all gone.

``In 1993 the Corpo came in with £4.4 million to refurbish the flats. But in 1994, after putting in new windows, without any locks on them, and putting showers into 16 of the flats, they left, cause the workmen didn't consider it safe to work there any longer. And it wasn't. The money disappeared altogether. The Corpo called it `overrun'. It was spent on other work elsewhere which had overrun its budget.

Geraldine has a two inch thick file of correspondence. The `Bertie's and `Jim's and `Brendan's' jump from the page with monotonous regularity. It isn't my department/my responsibility... I'm passing your letter onto...

and please don't hesitate to contact me if...''We didn't get very far with all our representations, meetings, protestations,'' says Geraldine.

After intensive lobbying of Dublin Corporation, all we have got is a letter of authority, last August to allow the 25 tenants with no showers in the flat to wash in the local baths (though not to swim) for free. Previously it was costing them £3.50 a week.

Meanwhile the damp in the flats means whole families sleep in the one room. More than half the kids here are asthmatic. Backdrafts from the chimney mean that often the fire can't be lit.

There is sewage odour through the complex. With only the kitchen sink for all washing in grossly overcrowded flats, highly contagious impetigo is rampant, as is scabies and headlice.

Three kids caught hepatitis which tenants put down to the excrement on the stairways. One child caught toxoplasmosis (contracted from contact with human or canine excrement) and is now blind in one eye. They have no fire escapes, making the flats a death trap.

Frustrated by so many years of delay the tenants got their own architect and proposed a redevelopment, converting the flats to own door housing for all. The Corporation thought it might be a bit expensive (the scheme was costed at around £6 million).

Instead, an integrated plan for the whole area has gone to the Government for approval. There is no decision on what should be done with Joseph's Mansions, though it is planned to rehouse all the legal tenants in Empress Place next door - when the houses are built.

``I blame ourselves and I blame the corporation. There are many genuine and sincere people in the Corpo, but they are wrapped up in red tape. If it had been a private landlord, the Corpo would have prosecuted them. But the Corpo itself is exempt.

``We have some great people living in this area, and I don't see why we should have to live like caged animals, caged by those who are breaking the law. If people want to take drugs, well let them do it in privacy. I don't want my child seeing how you do it, not being able to go out and play in safety.''

Meanwhile there is a generation of frightened abused kids who have lost a childhood despite the unceasing efforts and courage of their parents to provide what the government and local authority have denied them.


Proper housing demanded

Sinn Féin has lodged an objection to proposed developments in Ringsend, Dublin 4. In an official submission SF's objections included a severe lack of local authority housing in the area, a market driven by the private developer, lack of sports and recreational facilities in the area and the traffic chaos that these apartment blocks, in Thorncastle Street and Barrow Street, will bring.

Sinn Fein are calling on Dublin Corporation to refuse planning permission and to proceed with a longterm housing policy for the community with affordable houses. By reneging on their responsibility the local authority are leaving it to private property developers whose only motive is profit.

Local SF representative Daithí Doolan said ``I hope the Corporation will refuse planning permission and use the opportunity to embark on a long term housing plan for Dublin. The people of this area deserve affordable housing within their own community, but all we have seen in recent years is apartment blocks that only price local people out of the housing market.

With thousands of people on the housing list and an ever growing homeless problem it is imperative the Corporation do not walk away from their responsibility. If they do I for one will continue to fight with the people for a just and proper housing system that benefits everyone''.

The communities in this part of Dublin's Southeast Inner City have formed themselves into a Community Council, a broad based organisation to give the local people the voice that is so often denied to them.

The Council has handed in a petition to Dublin Corporation with 2,500 signatories asking for proper housing and facilities for the area.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1