‘We’re Not Responsible For The Performance Of The Housing Market’

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Dublin City Council’s CEO Owen Keegan speaking to RTE’s Sean O’Rourke this morning

This morning.

On RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

Dublin City Council’s CEO Owen Keegan was interviewed about  a range of matters.

These included the Luas Cross City works, the College Green plaza the lack of cycling facilities in the capital, housing and comments of Housing Agency’s boss Conor Skehan who recently claimed some people were ‘gaming the system’, by, he alleged, declaring they were homeless in order to jump the housing waiting list queue.

He was also asked his opinion about the €500,000 that Dublin City Council have voted to spend on lowering a recently built flood defence wall in Clontarf.

From the interview…

Owen Keegan: “What we’re saying is do not come into the city centre unless your destination is in the city, core city centre. There was far too much traffic going through the city centre and we’ve basically made it, we’re not accommodating that traffic but you can still access every car park, you can access every hotel and business is doing well in the city centre. This myth that business is dependent on car access, that’s simply not the case.

“Business is recovering very well in the city centre. We’ve held the retail core, despite all the challenges and it’s a difficult time for retail generally with the move to offline [sic] sales. It’s about the quality of the  retail experience and about the whole public…it’s not just about how you access it.”

Sean O’Rourke: “This is an another angle being taken by, this is another one of our listeners, Marie, ‘will you please ask Owen Keegan what’s the plan for cyclists trying to make their way safely through the city; you take your life in your hands and probably drive Luas drivers mad as well cycling down Dawson Street’?”

Keegan: “Well one of the immediate things we’re going to do is improve cyclist facilities around the College Green area because we recognise that it is very challenging at the moment. There is a need for significant further investment in cycling facilities in the core city centre.

O’Rourke: “Now, describe the plaza that’s planned. I mean what is it going to do? How big is it going to be? What’s going to go on there?”

Keegan: “It’s basically an open space but, you know, finished in very high quality materials, you know, for pedestrians. There will be a dedicated cycle track on one side of it, a two-way cycle track. I mean I’m not going to describe the image here..”

O’Rourke:It’s a public facility…but again people are thinking, ‘well, you know, that was supposed to be the great appeal of the boardwalk and the first job that has to be done there, along the Liffey, is you’ve to go out and clean up the needles that are there, left by people unfortunately who have the wrong relationship with drugs.”

Keegan:I think there are issues about the boardwalk but I don’t believe that this public plaza will be, I think there’ll be significant uses of, you know, I mean, one of, the problem with the boardwalk, at times of the day, it isn’t that used, it has been frequented by, you know, certain category which is unfortunate. I don’t think that issue will arise here.”

O’Rourke: “You think it’s going to be an area that’s going to enhance the city as opposed to one that’s going to create further social problems…”

Keegan: “Absolutely..absolutely.”

Later

O’Rourke: “What about housing? Obviously you have a responsibility there and it’s in Dublin, perhaps more than anywhere else, that the crisis is most keenly felt. What have you been able to do by way of, I mean how many new social houses or apartments did the city council build? I don’t mean ones that you supplied to new, or sorry to people who didn’t previously have one, what is the story there at the moment in Dublin City Council?”

Keegan: “Well, look, the housing situation is very difficult and the city council, we’re not responsible for the performance of the housing market. The recovery in the general housing supply has been slow, much slower than, given the buoyancy of the economy – that’s not our direct responsibility, but it is a major factor, so, I suppose the housing crisis is partly because we got out of social housing building and that would have been, and in actual fact there was no money to spend on social housing, it’s something that I think was most unfortunate. We’re back in social housing now, it’s taking time to ramp that up.

“But you know we’re dealing with the consequences of the failure of the private housing market and we have some influence on that market, in terms of planing policy but there are other factors there. But we have been very proactive in terms of sourcing our social housing. I mean last year we would have sourced about 4,100 units – not many of those were new builds. But there was an awful lot of housing that had been, our own stock, that had been out of commission, that we recommissioned.

“We made about 2,400 HAP housing assistance payment units available, the new builds would have been, we built around 100, sorry 250, the approved housing bodies brought about 350 units of supply, we got about 56 on Part V. Overall, we did about 4,000 allocations.”

O’Rourke: “But that would seem to be just a fraction of what’s needed in a city of a million people? How many people are on your housing list, waiting list?”

Keegan: “There are about 19,000. But 4,000 does represent significant, relative to where we would have been…”

O’Rourke: “What would you expect to do this year?”

Keegan: “Well I’d expect to do a lot more than that.”

O’Rourke:Would you expect to double it?”

Keegan:I’m not sure we’d quite double it, no, no. We have an awful lot of houses at different stages of construction, we’ve under construction, at planning, design, so, the pipeline is building up. It takes time to get housing. And we were out of the social housing business. At the same time, a lot of our effort has gone into, we brought another 200 hostel beds on, we’re working on about 500 family hub units, all of these units are delivered by the city council so, you know, we have been very proactive, compared to where we were two years ago and we would begin to see the benefits of that over the next two to three years.”

O’Rourke:Is money an issue for you or have you got as much as you think you can spend?”

Keegan: “I think in fairness we’re getting as much as we think we can spend, you know? I don’t think that is an issue.”

O’Rourke: “And what about space in which to build?”

Keegan: “Well at the moment, we have a limited number of sites. I think every site that we own is at some stage in the process, you know, in two or three years, we’ll run out of sites and we’ll have to acquire land or, you know, but at the moment, we have enough sites, they’re all, every site we have I think is being pursued and is at some stage along the process.”

O’Rourke: “Yeah, I mean, talking about the list, the 19,000 people on it, do you have a view on what Conor Skehan had to say, the chair of the national Housing Agency, that some people were making themselves homeless in order to get quicker access to accommodation?

Keegan:There is no doubt that a number of people who are presenting, or families who are presenting as homeless, are leaving the family home. Now whether you can accuse those people of ‘gaming’, you know, that’s a very emotive language. A lot of those people are in very difficult situations in the family home. So I think it would be unfair to categorise everybody who leaves a family home.

There is probably, you know, a sense to which, given the political priority  on housing families who are actually homeless, the priority being put on that, you know, people who are queuing in an ordinary fashion, in very difficult conditions in the family home, some of them may say ‘well look, I’m not getting anywhere’, you know, and may have made themselves homeless.

“But I think someone has to have an understanding of the factors, it’s not as simple as, I think the word ‘gaming the system’ was unfortunate. People can be in very, very difficult circumstances at a family home and it may not be tenable for them to continue to reside there and they present…”

O’Rourke:And in desperation maybe, they think there’s a quicker route to a permanent home…”

Keegan: “Yeah and given how important housing is, it’s not unreasonable that people would maximise, now I don’t advocate, and we certainly think people are better off being in the family home where they have family supports and in many, most cases, it is by far a better option going into a hotel, but you know, we have to accept that for some people it is not a sustainable option.”

Later

O’Rourke: “One other question, it’s on the mind of some of our listeners. A lot of time, I think was it two years and a lot of expense went to raising the sea wall, that protective barrier in the Clontarf area. And now it’s going to be lowered again so that motorists can have their view of the sea restored? Does that make sense?”

Keegan: “It doesn’t make sense to me. And I would have advised the members strongly against it. But, ultimately, this was a political decision. In fairness to the elected members, I think we started that, the construction of that project in the run up to the general election. And having sailed through the planning approval process and nobody  objected to it, none of the councillors objected to it, it was unanimously endorsed, the part VIII at the council. When we went to build it there were a number of concerns raised locally and they just gathered momentum in the run-up to the general election and, certainly one councillor was particularly active in campaigning against it and kind of, we were, the contractor was on site. It just, we kind of just lost control of the thing, so it was unfortunate. I mean, don’t start sensitive projects in the run-up to a general election would be the lesson I’d learn from that.”

Listen back in full here

Pic: Today With Sean O’Rourke

32 thoughts on “‘We’re Not Responsible For The Performance Of The Housing Market’

  1. gerry

    500,000 is not being spent on lowering the wall. Most of the money is being spent on finishing the wall with stone as was agreed in 2015. The wall is currently unfinished and very sloppy looking with different materials used in parts and a rough blue line that was painted on during construction. I’ve been reading a lot of people talking about how it’s a perfectly good wall. It’s not it’s a sloppy job.

    Here is a photo that doesn’t even show the worst sections of the wall: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/storage.publisherplus.ie/media.nova.ie/uploads/2018/01/09133317/Clontarf-Sea-Wall.jpg

    This was only recently build and look at the state of it.

        1. Cian

          The Clontarf wall can be seen from the MOON!
          But if they lower it, it won’t even be visible from a car on the Clontarf Road.

    1. Robert

      Seems fine to me. I mean what do you expect? It’s a coastal wall? Delicately crenellated Portland stone?

      Not sure I understand your objection to the “blue line” either? Presumably said line fulfils a particular function. It’s not like a draftsman sat down and said “Oh you know what would make this look great. A blue line”

  2. dav

    How come the sea wall can be decided by a council vote, but blocking of busses from using the college green bus corridor isn’t?

    1. Medium Sized C

      Are you sure this is actually being blocked, though?
      I’m pretty sure that if Owen Keegan really wanted to he could just do it anyway.
      Also, has the college green thing been voted upon?

      1. dav

        Dublin Bus have objected to his college green plaza as it will block their buses access to Westmorland street via College green Bus Corridor. I don’t think it has been voted upon. He’s ignoring an bord pleanala to ram the plaza in

        1. Medium Sized C

          An Bord Pleanala are not the Council.
          Neither are Dublin Bus.

          My point is that he can ignore the elected councillors, he isn’t actually accountable to them.
          The council voted against the incinerator for example. John Tierney just went ahead and did it anyway.

          He himself must not actually care enough to overrule them.

          1. dav

            fair enough. He does seem to have enormous amount of power. Is he answerable to the Dept of the Environment?

          2. Medium Sized C

            He has the same power that any city or county manager has.

            I’m pretty sure they are answerable to the DOE.
            Also DOE largely holds the purse strings.

  3. Robert

    I’ve got to say, it’s so lovely and refreshing to see a senior executive with a public mandate so brazenly parading around with his boo boos on display. I can’t agree with all of Keegan’s decisions but he is great for getting things done and I wish there were more like him, even if just to counterbalance the likes of him! He’s very much the least of DCC’s problems and may in fact be the solution to some of the problems.

        1. dav

          I think his childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring he’d make meat helmets. When he was insolent he was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds, pretty standard really. At the age of twelve he received his first scribe. At the age of fourteen a Zoroastrian named Wilma ritualistically shaved his testicles. he is said to say “there really is nothing like a shorn scrotum… it’s breathtaking, I suggest you try it.”…

  4. John McAlinden

    I hope they have another 500,000 available to reinstate the sea wall that they are about to ruin on the Sandymount side. Work is about to commence on raising the wall by 38cm which will certainly cut off the sea view to passing motoristsand, I suspect, cause the wall to collapse in some places between Sean Moore Park and the beginning of the Promenade.
    On an entirely different matter, in spite of what Eoin Keegan says, DCC is the responsibility authority for housing homeless individuals and families within the Dublin City area.

    1. Medium Sized C

      He didn’t say that they weren’t, he explained what the problem is.
      It wasn’t the local authorities decision to stop building social housing, that came from the Government and seeing as Local authorities have very little control of their own budgets, (because they are funded mostly by the DOE on a program basis, FF abolished rates and very little of what they supply is paid for directly ) they couldn’t just continue building social housing.

      Most of DCC’s construction for the last 20 odd years has been renovation or rebuild programmes, like York Street, Fatima mansions or the Ballymun regeneration (which is actually semi-private). Most new social housing came from private developers by quota which seems not to have worked well.
      In addition to this, DCC have been decommissioning units all over the city, units that would have been of some use in a homelessness crisis, due to housing standards applied by the DOE, for example one-bed apartments in established social housing stock. (If you walk past a block of flats and notice that all the ground floor units are boarded up, they are probably one-beds or bedsits that were deemed unsuitable by the DOE… I guess instead of sneering at the “crying chair” we will be calling them “small spaces” now.)

      I don’t see a man abdicating his responsibilities here and if you want someone to batter for the housing crisis, you could do worse than blaming the DOE.

      Also IT WAS THE BAAAAANKS!

  5. Frilly Qeane

    put me right here lads
    as a motorist
    why should I be catered for with a distracting view
    surely I should be encouraged to focus on the road and other motorists, likewise with cyclists and pedestrians

    1. Nigel

      On the one hand you need flood defences. On the other hand it seems a pity to take something away that makes life a little brighter for people on their commute. If only functional and necessary weren’t so completely incompatible with aesthetically pleasing because we treat people’s more abstract need for beauty as utterly disposable and even self-indulgent

  6. some old queen

    Never mind sea walls, when are they going to repair the vacant flats and get tenants into them?

  7. fulladapipes

    “the new builds would have been, we built around 100, sorry 250,” – from Q1 to Q3 2017, DCC built 31 houses.

        1. italia'90

          Do you reckon Mr Keegan was telling porkies and inflating the figures for public consumption or is he just badly informed/prepared?
          Is Custo going to try to counter your facts with alternative facts?
          How is he ever going to spin this one I wonder? Hmmmm

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