From top: O’Devaney Gardens, Dublin 7 in July, 2016; Cllr. Éilis Ryan
On Thursday,, Dublin City councillors will be voting on whether to reverse a motion that they themselves passed less than two months ago to ensure O’Devaney Gardens in Dublin 7 would not be privatised.
Dublin City Councillor Éilis Ryan writes:
Once home to 280 households, the near-empty site of O’Devaney Gardens, is one of Dublin’s most valuable, a stone’s throw from Phoenix Park, and an easy stroll to the city centre.
It had its problems in the past, but the real damage was done more recently. Since 2008 a combination of bankrupt developers and abandonment by the state have destroyed O’Devaney Gardens.
And now it has become the epicentre of attempts to privatise public land by handing it over to developers to build private housing.
Its the same story we always see with privatising valuable public assets – run down a public asset – land, in this case – say you’ve no money to build it back up, and use that as an excuse to privatise it.
We’ve seen similar giveaways of our oil and gas, our telecoms infrastructure, our bin services and our national airline. It was never going to take long before they came for our land.
So how exactly did we get to this point?
Since 2014, Dublin City Council have been making plans to get interested developers to build on the council’s land – including O’Devaney Gardens – under the Housing Land Initiative. The details of this Initiative have property developers’ fingerprints all over it.
There is no commitment that the land would be sold for what it was worth. The council and the state commit to pay for all the infrastructure required on the sites in question. And the private developer would retain all the profits on the site. All round then, a bad deal for the state – a giveaway.
But would it deliver badly needed housing?
Doubtful. The scheme proposed a mixture of social, affordable, private cost rental and privately owned housing. ‘Affordable’ housing is defined by the government as anything below €300,000 – which only the wealthiest 20% of households can get a mortgage for.
Meanwhile the cost rental scheme proposed for the site was to be private sector – meaning a massive subsidy from the state to the private landlords.
So not only did the housing land initiative radically reduce the amount of social housing on the site, it also failed to propose badly needed housing for households earning average incomes.
In July of this year the Workers’ Party tabled a motion to reverse the privatisation. It called for 100% cost rental, mixed income public housing on the site, which would target 50% of the units to those above social housing thresholds, and under which all the revenue, and the land, would remain in public hands.
The motion passed on July 25. It was a resounding blow against those attempting to hand over O’Devaney Gardens over to for-profit developers.
Almost immediately, Dublin City Council began issuing warnings that the proposal was unimplementable. Off the back of these warnings, councillors who originally backed the plan have reversed their support for the motion.
The methods used since to reverse the democratic decision of the council have been underhand to say the least. Two meetings about the matter, including one with Minister Simon Coveney, have been held without the Workers’ Party – the proposer of the motion in question – being invited or notified.
Dublin City Council have continued to make plans for their original privatisation plan in spite of the motion passed by councillors in July.
And most recently, last Thursday, it was announced that a motion would be put forward to reverse the original council decision. Almost all of the signatories are councillors who originally voted to keep the land public. This is highly unusual.
How much can really have changed since July, that this is justified?
The councillors in question say they have learned that our proposal does not meet national and local planning guidelines for achieving a social mix.
However, our proposal specifically states that the public housing must be mixed income.
By contrast, in many “Public Private” developments, the ‘private’ portion of the housing is let out to residents on Housing Assistance Payment – so, in reality, no mixed income is achieved.
They also say our proposal is financially unrealistic– but the council already borrows money from the Housing Finance Agency to lend mortgages – why not also to build?
In reality, its clear these excuses are all just that – excuses. There’s no doubt that Fine Gael don’t want to deliver public housing – but Fine Gael do not run Dublin City Council.
At least, I didn’t think they did.
Éilis Ryan is Dublin City Councillor for The Workers’ Party in Dublin’s North Inner City.