HOME­LESS IN SOUTH CO DUBLIN

Even Ire­land’s most af­flu­ent area suf­fers from home­less­ness. In Dún Laoghaire-Rath­down, new builds are rare, few can af­ford en­try-level homes, and a per­son can spend 20 years on the hous­ing list. Some call it ‘so­cial cleans­ing’

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Si­mon Car­swell

Will i am Tutty strolls along Ge­orge’s Street Up­per in Dún Laoghaire with his dog, Daisy. He car­ries a bag that con­tains her feed­ing bowl, his cig­a­rettes and some of his be­long­ings. Home­less for al­most two years, the 47- year- old is head­ing to catch a train to Dublin city cen­tre, for an­other night at the Brú Aim­sir hos­tel, on Thomas Street. He would pre­fer his tent and a favourite quiet spot un­der bushes be­side the nearby beach in Killiney, but the nights have been too cold.

“I don’t like it, but I will just have to stick it out,” he says. “It is very noisy. I like to keep to my­self, and it is hard to keep to my­self, be­cause there are so many peo­ple in it. I just like to be on my own. Hope­fully things will turn around.”

Tully is stand­ing across the road from Adel­phi Manor, a res­i­den­tial block that is be­ing mar­keted as “spa­cious apart­ments and pent­houses in the heart of Dún Laoghaire”. He says he is shocked at the in­creased num­ber of peo­ple sleep­ing rough as a re­sult of the hous­ing cri­sis and soar­ing rents. He has been on Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down County Coun­cil’s hous­ing wait­ing list for al­most 12 years.

“You see home­less all over the place. Dún Laoghaire is not bad, but in the city they are all over the place. Ev­ery cor­ner you turn you al­ways see some­one,” he says.

On the surface Dún Laoghaire’s streets re­flect the town’s sta­tus as one of the coun­try’s wealth­i­est ar­eas. At the next cor­ner along from where I bump into Tutty is the lo­cal branch of Sherry FitzGerald. In its win­dow the cheap­est house for sale is a ter­raced two- bed­room cot­tage in Glasthule with an ask­ing price of ¤ 345,000; the most ex­pen­sive is a six-bed­room Vic­to­rian house on the mar­ket for ¤1.85 mil­lion.

The Dún Laoghaire-Rath­down area is a place of stark con­trasts. Be­yond the mul­ti­mil­lion- euro Ge­or­gian ter­race and seafront homes of Killiney and Dalkey are the coun­cil es­tates of Bally­brack, Rath­sal­lagh and Monkstown Farm. The av­er­age value of a three-bed­room semi-de­tached house in Dún Laoghaire rose by 61 per cent, to ¤506,000, in the five years to 2017. Prices are even higher in the neigh­bour­ing ar­eas of Sandy­cove and Monkstown.

Steven Manek, Sherry FitzGerald’s sales di­rec­tor for the Dublin re­gion, says that de­mand is strong in the first-time-buyer mar­ket for prop­er­ties with ask­ing prices un­der ¤ 500,000, as well as at the higher end of the mar­ket, but that hous­ing is in chron­i­cally short sup­ply.

“The stock is very, very low, and as a re­sult you have re­ally strong bid­ding in­ter­est in ar­eas of Glasthule and Sandy­cove. Dún Laoghaire and its im­me­di­ate sub­urbs are very pop­u­lar with buy­ers again.”

There are other signs of af­flu­ence. The area has the third- high­est num­ber of owner- oc­cu­piers with­out a loan or mort­gage in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to the 2016 cen­sus, and the high­est per­cent­age of house­holds – 86 per cent – with broad­band in­ter­net.

There are signs of dis­tress, too. There are 5,097 “house­holds” – mostly fam­i­lies – wait­ing for so­cial hous­ing from the coun­cil ( out of 91,600 on lo­cal author­ity hous­ing lists na­tion­ally). Just 290 so­cial- hous­ing units were added in Dún Laoghaire last year. At this rate of con­struc­tion it would take al­most 18 years to clear this list.

The so­cial-hous­ing needs could, on pa­per, be met by fill­ing va­cant prop­er­ties: the cen­sus recorded 5,146 va­cant prop­er­ties in Dún Laoghaire. But the so­lu­tion is not so sim­ple.

“When I talk to col­leagues in other lo­cal au­thor­i­ties the per­cep­tion is the leafy, wealthy sub­urbs of Dún Laoghaire when you are look­ing out on Vico Road or Sandy­cove or Monkstown,” says Cormac Devlin, a Fianna Fáil coun­cil­lor, who i s also Cathaoir­leach of Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down coun­cil. “Within those ar­eas, and oth­ers, there are peo­ple who are strug­gling to make ends meet – and they need help.”

The in­creased cost of buy­ing or rent­ing prop­erty here, which can be at least 20 per cent higher than in other parts of the coun­try, means that the di­vide be­tween rich and poor is more pro­nounced. The shortage of avail­able ac­com­mo­da­tion – be it so­cial hous­ing or af­ford­able pri­vate-rental prop­erty – and green spa­ces for new-home devel­op­ments means the squeeze is more keenly felt.

“For those in hous­ing dif­fi­culty, or who have less money, it is worse for them, be­cause hous­ing is so far out of their reach but their wel­fare pay­ments are the same as any­one else in the coun­try. Rents and prop­erty prices are in the strato­sphere,” says Richard Boyd Bar­rett, the Peo­ple Be­fore Profit TD for Dún Laoghaire.

He de­scribes it as a form of so­cial cleans­ing: an ac­cel­er­ated process of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion that is pre­vent­ing chil­dren of work­ing-class peo­ple and the less well-off from liv­ing where their par­ents grew up.

Couch surf­ing

Both the sup­ply and the af­ford­abil­ity of hous­ing, ei­ther to buy or rent, have his­tor­i­cally been very tight in Dún Laoghaire. Even at the height of the eco­nomic cri­sis Dún Laoghaire-Rath­down had the low­est un­em­ploy­ment in the coun­try, at 11.2 per cent, com­pared with the na­tional peak of 15.1 per cent. It has the low­est pro­por­tion of mort­gaged house­holds where the head of the house­hold is out of work.

This has in­su­lated the area some­what. Rents did not fall as sharply here as they did else­where dur­ing the cri­sis, and they’re rock­et­ing now. The cen­sus found that rent in­creases in the area over the past five years were the sec­ond high­est in the coun­try, at 26.2 per cent.

Ten­ants have been forced back into liv­ing with par­ents, into couch­surf­ing with rel­a­tives or friends, or, in se­vere cases, into emer­gency ac­com­mo­da­tion and trau­matic sit­u­a­tions.

“One re­ally aw­ful sce­nario I am faced with ev­ery week in my clinic is peo­ple who have never had drug or ad­dic­tion prob­lems be­com­ing home­less, and the only ac­com­mo­da­tion they are be­ing of­fered is where they are shar­ing with peo­ple with drug and ad­dic­tion prob­lems,” Boyd Bar­rett says.

The State long ago gave up large- scale so­cial- hous­ing con­struc­tion; it re­lies in­stead on the pri­vate sec­tor. This may make sense in the­ory, but in a dys­func­tional mar­ket land­lords can drive up rents as grow­ing num­bers of would-be ten­ants fight over a dwin­dling sup­ply of prop­er­ties.

Ten­ants re­ly­ing on sub­si­dies such as the hous­ing as­sis­tance pay­ment, or HAP – one op­tion held up by the Govern­ment as a so­lu­tion to the cri­sis – can find them­selves at the back of the queue.

Anna Byrne, a 30-year-old sin­gle mother, has been sleep­ing on a bed­room floor in her fa­ther’s coun­cil house, in Sal­lynog­gin, next t o her f our- year- ol d s on and two- year- old daugh­ter since she was forced to leave her rented home, when her land­lord sold the prop­erty, in De­cem­ber 2013. Her niece sleeps in a bed in the same room; her sick fa­ther and nephew each have their own room in the house.

“I am lit­er­ally in an over­crowded house. I don’t need to be ly­ing on a wooden floor with blan­kets over us. I need a home,” Byrne says.

She has been on the wait­ing list for so­cial hous­ing with Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down for five years; she has also been un­able to find a land­lord who will ac­cept her as a ten­ant un­der the HAP scheme.

“It is just ridicu­lous. I have been try­ing to look for places on the HAP, and no­body wants to know,” she says. “I went to the coun­cil, and they wanted to put me in a ho­tel in Fin­glas. I don’t even know where Fin­glas is. I have been fight­ing for a home, but no­body will lis­ten to me. The coun­cil says: ‘You have a room over your head and wa­ter com­ing out of your taps.’ It’s just in­sane.”

Min­is­ter for Hous­ing Si­mon Coveney plans to ad­dress the cri­sis by build­ing 130,000 so­cial- hous­ing units by 2020, in­clud­ing 83,000 through HAP ten­an­cies, where a lo­cal author­ity pays land­lords rent di­rectly and the ten­ant pays a par­tial rent to the lo­cal author­ity based on in­come.

Boyd Bar­rett ar­gues that the de­mand for rental homes is so great that HAP ten­ants, if they man­age to se­cure a place, will end up in the worst qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion. If ten­ants com­plain, the coun­cil will be re­luc­tant to act for fear of re­duc­ing the num­ber of rental prop­er­ties avail­able un­der the HAP.

“We are fac­ing a re­turn to ten­e­ment con­di­tions,” he claims. “It is al­ready hap­pen­ing with peo­ple be­ing crammed into fam­ily homes in large num­bers. But the other rea­son it is go­ing to hap­pen is that [in fu­ture] the only land­lords who will sign ar­range­ments with lo­cal au­thor­i­ties are those rent­ing out chronic, di­lap­i­dated prop­er­ties.”

Frus­trated by the re­liance on pri­vate-sec­tor so­lu­tions, Boyd Bar­rett re­cently in­vited 20 or so peo­ple af­fected by the cri­sis to the Dáil gallery to help make his case for more ac­tion to Taoiseach Enda Kenny dur­ing a de­bate last month.

“It was a very di­rect at­tempt to punc­ture the fan­tasy of their pro­jec­tions,” he says.

‘I don’t need lux­ury’

For those in the Dáil gallery that day the so­lu­tions on of­fer are not work­ing.

Siob­hán, who does not want to give her real name, is a 30- year- old sin­gle mother who has been liv­ing from week to week in a ho­tel i n Dún Laoghaire so t hat her four-year-old daugh­ter can con­tinue go­ing to school nearby.

The coun­cil sug­gested that she take a room in a hos­tel in the city, but when she in­spected it she found used nee­dles out­side the win­dow. She es­ti­mates that she has viewed 60 apart­ments, but land­lords do not want to ac­cept the HAP scheme “be­cause they don’t un­der­stand it”.

Such is the de­mand that most apart­ments have been viewed by dozens of oth­ers by the time Siob­hán sees them. “If I can get a one-bed­room I would take it. I don’t need lux­ury or fanci­ness or a big two-bed­room. I just need some­where where I can put my daugh­ter to sleep at night that is safe,” she says.

Ea­mon and Sarah Smith, who are 31 and 29, were wait­ing for a coun­cil house in Dún Laoghaire for nine years. They moved on to South Dublin County Coun­cil, and a house in Tal­laght, be­cause be­fore March 1st the HAP scheme was not avail­able in Dún Laoghaire. With four chil­dren un­der nine, they are ex­pect­ing their fifth child. They have been given no­tice by their land­lord that he in­tends to sell their house; they have to find an­other land­lord who will ac­cept their HAP ten­ancy by June 23rd. They have ap­plied for 56 houses in a month but se­cured noth­ing.

“Most let­ting agents are email only. We learned early on from advice not to men­tion HAP un­til you go face to face with the land­lord. If you men­tion HAP in the email your email gets lost,” Ea­mon says. “The HAP scheme just doesn’t work. It is not a so­lu­tion to the hous­ing prob­lem. It is putting too much pres­sure on the ten­ants them­selves to find a new house.”

Les­lie, who is 31, punched a bed­room door of his rental house in Rath­farn­ham in frus­tra­tion when he and his wife, Gemma, were told by Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down County Coun­cil that, af­ter seven years on a wait­ing list, they were no longer eli­gi­ble for so­cial hous­ing. Gemma had taken on ex­tra hours at work, cov­er­ing for a col­league on ma­ter­nity leave in her re­tail job. This put them ¤1,600 over the coun­cil’s el­i­gi­bil­ity in­come thresh­old of ¤38,500 a year for a cou­ple and two chil­dren.

“I was in shock for a month and a half. It is not a nice feel­ing that no one is go­ing to help,” says Gemma, who is also 31. “If we take the pay rise then we are stuck with the coun­cil. If we don’t take a pay rise we can’t make ends meet.”

Cathríona, a 33-year-old part-time hair­dresser, has been shar­ing a bed with her three-year-old daugh­ter for two years in a box­room in her mother’s home, in Monkstown Farm. A coun­cil of­fi­cial in­spected the house and sug­gested that she move into an­other bed­room wi t h her 26-year-old sis­ter and that they put an­other bed into the box­room for her daugh­ter and her sis­ter’s child.

“How can you fit an­other bed in that tiny room?” she says.

She has been ap­proved for an HAP ten­ancy, and she has con­tacted five places seek­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion, but none of them has re­turned her call.

“It is a night­mare,” she says. “My little one has to have a room. She is ba­si­cally kick­ing me in her sleep. She has asthma as well, so ev­ery­thing in the room is clog­ging it up. It is too much for her.”

Tre­mayne Light was liv­ing in his car in Killiney Hill car park for four weeks be­fore be­ing ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal last month. The 53-year-old has hepati­tis C, has had a liver trans­plant, uses a wheel­chair and is await­ing fur­ther surgery. A so­cial worker at the hos­pi­tal is try­ing to find him a long- term

No­body wants to know. I went to the coun­cil, and they wanted to put me in a ho­tel in Fin­glas. I don’t even know where Fin­glas is. I have been fight­ing for a home, but no­body will lis­ten to me

med­i­cal- care unit through Dún Laoghaire-Rath­down coun­cil.

“In 2017, in Ire­land, am I hope­ful of get­ting a friendly place to stay that’s warm, dry and safe,” he says.

The sale of apart­ment blocks to so- called vul­ture f unds by t he Na­tional As­set Man­age­ment Agency, or Nama, the State agency set up to buy prop­erty loans from banks to re­pair the sec­tor, is not help­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

A hand­ful of ten­ants liv­ing in Robin Hill, a block of 51 apart­ments in nearby Sandy­ford, have re­ceived evic­tion no­tices from a prop­erty com­pany act­ing for the re­ceiver, Grant Thorn­ton.

They have been told that the re­ceiver in­tends to sell the build­ing. Nama sold the block to the US in­vest­ment fund Cer­berus last year with a bun­dle of other as­sets in a port­fo­lio sale called Project Gem.

Un­der leg­is­la­tion and the so-called Tyrrel­stown amend­ment, passed last year with the aim of giv­ing ten­ants greater se­cu­rity of ten­ure and rent cer­tainty, funds are lim­ited to evict­ing no more than 10 ten­an­cies at once and to rais­ing rents by no more than 4 per cent in ar­eas deemed to be “rent pres­sure zones”.

Cer­berus is stay­ing within the law by is­su­ing no more than 10 evic­tion no­tices to ten­ants of Robin Hill. But with 10 more va­can­cies the fund will se­cure a higher price for the block.

“It is a huge con­cern,” says Robert Scott, who re­ceived an evic­tion no­tice and now has to leave by June 25th. “There’s no prospect of be­ing able to buy some­where with the amount you have to save. At 32 years of age, it looks like I will have to go back to my par­ents.”

Scott has been pay­ing ¤ 1,050 a month for a two-bed­room apart­ment since 2013; a neigh­bour who moved i n next door l ast year i s pay­ing ¤ 1,600 for the same type of apart­ment.

Naly Rafaman­tanantsoa, an IT en­gi­neer from Mada­gas­car, has re­ceived an evic­tion no­tice, too; he is strug­gling to find a new home with­out ac­cept­ing a huge hike in rent. “There are not many one-bed­rooms in the area, but also, if there are few in the area, they are ¤1,600,” he says.

“What I don’t un­der­stand is that they are go­ing to move us out and rent it to some­one else. So where are we go­ing to go?”

Grant Thorn­ton de­clined to com­ment on what it or Cer­berus plans for Robin Hill. Cer­berus had not com­mented on Robin Hill by the time of pub­li­ca­tion. The US com­pany typ­i­cally doesn’t com­ment on spe­cific cases.

A Belfast-based spokesman for the US firm, how­ever, re­ferred to past com­ments made by Cer­berus to a North­ern Ire­land As­sem­bly com­mit­tee about how it op­er­ates, say­ing that it acts “within the frame­work of lo­cal laws” and that it tries to “main­tain pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships with bor­row­ers, other lo­cal stake­hold­ers and the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live and work.”

One day last month Boyd Bar­rett checked what was avail­able in the Dublin rental mar­ket. Of 1,155 avail­able to rent in Dublin on the prop­erty web­site Daft. ie, there were just 28 three-bed­room prop­er­ties for rent at less than ¤1,500 a month and just 55 for less than ¤1,800.

Nama strait­jacket

The Dún Laoghaire TD be­lieves that the Govern­ment could have solved the hous­ing cri­sis with Nama by chang­ing the agency’s man­date from a com­mer­cial to a so­cial re­mit and by di­rect­ing it to pro­vide more so­cial hous­ing.

“It was a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion by Fine Gael, and it was a very mis­guided de­ci­sion that pro­duced the cri­sis that we have now,” he says.

Nama’s re­sponse? It’s com­pli­cated. The agency’s pur­pose is to re­cover as much money as it can from the as­sets it ac­quired and then re­turn as big a profit as pos­si­ble to the State, which, if politi­cians so de­sire, could then be used for so­cial hous­ing.

The agency is ex­pect­ing to re­turn a profit of ¤ 2.3 bil­lion to the State. Nama’s view is that even if it wanted to sell prop­er­ties be­low the mar­ket value for so­cial hous­ing, it can­not: it owns loans, not prop­er­ties, and debt- ors – the devel­op­ers – could sue if the max­i­mum mar­ket amount were not achieved, as this type of sale would not re­duce their debts by as much as a sale on the open mar­ket would.

“The com­mer­cial strait­jacket is a good idea for some­one who has been given a load of tax­pay­ers’ money to buy loans, and it is tasked with get­ting the money back for the tax­pay­ers,” a spokesman for the Depart­ment of Fi­nance says. “Even if you re­move it, Nama doesn’t have ac­cess to the kind of prop­er­ties that peo­ple think Nama has ac­cess to.”

De­spite i ts com­mer­cial re­mit Nama has de­liv­ered 2,378 res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties for so­cial hous­ing. This in­cludes 254 units in Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down, among them 124 in the Honey­park de­vel­op­ment, on the site of the old Dún Laoghaire golf club, built by Cos­grave Broth­ers devel­op­ers with fund­ing from Nama.

These projects all help, but the re­cent con­struc­tion in­ac­tiv­ity has left a shortage of hous­ing that the Govern­ment says will take a long time to ad­dress.

Coveney’s “Re­build­ing Ire­land” plan proposes of­fer­ing more than 800 pub­licly owned sites around the State to pri­vate devel­op­ers and hous­ing as­so­ci­a­tions for the pro­vi­sion of 50,000 homes. His map of the plan s hows 24 coun­cil sites in Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down, cov­er­ing al­most 44 hectares ( 109 acres), the equiv­a­lent of about five St Stephen’s Greens, in Dublin city cen­tre.

“We are not look­ing to hand land to pri­vate devel­op­ers, but we do need builders to build houses for us,” Maria Bai­ley, the Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire, says. “The State can’t build all those houses. It is a process t hat t akes t i me. We are go­ing through ev­ery­thing that should have been done 10 years ago. We are still clean­ing up that mess.”

To ad­dress un­der­sup­ply the coun­cil points to what are ef­fec­tively three new towns be­ing planned: Cher­ry­wood, Kiltier­nan- Gle­na­muck and Shanganagh- Wood­brook. They will pro­vide 12,300 homes, in­clud­ing at l east 1,230 so­cial- and af­ford­able-hous­ing units, un­der the re­quire­ments of the Ur­ban Re­gen­er­a­tion and Hous­ing Act.

Bai­ley notes that Dún Laoghaire- Rath­down re­ceived the most of any coun­cil – ¤ 40 mil­lion of ¤ 226 mil­lion – from a Govern­ment fund un­veiled in March to make pri­vately owned sites ready for large hous­ing devel­op­ments by fund­ing roads, wa­ter schemes and sew­ers.

Con­struc­tion work has started on an­other 302 so­cial units in the coun­cil’s area, and a fur­ther 186 are in the plan­ning stage, with work be­ing done with ap­proved hous­ing bod­ies to de­liver an­other 207.

In ad­di­tion the coun­cil cites the HAP scheme as part of the so­lu­tion, al­though just 19 ten­an­cies have been signed un­der the scheme in Dún Laoghaire in the past two months.

“The gen­eral hous­ing-sup­ply is­sue is part of a wider prob­lem in the hous­ing sec­tor,” the coun­cil’s di­rec­tor of hous­ing, Cather­ine Keenan, says. “Ad­dress­ing any one el­e­ment of that prob­lem, be it the con­struc­tion sec­tor, the fi­nan­cial sec­tor or the plan­ning sec­tor, will not in it­self pro­vide an all-en­com­pass­ing so­lu­tion.”

This mul­ti­fac­eted fix is not com­ing fast enough for some.

Sit­ting in the kitchen of his rented house in Tal­laght, Ea­mon Smith says that his wife’s grand­mother died last week and that her coun­cil house in Dún Laoghaire, the fam­ily home for 48 years, will be boarded up. It will then take four or five months to be re­fur­bished for an­other ap­pli­cant.

The cou­ple went to the coun­cil to ask if they and their four chil­dren could move in tem­po­rar­ily, in re­sponse to their June 23rd evic­tion. But by mov­ing to the HAP scheme they were taken off the hous­ing list af­ter their nine- year wait, be­cause their hous­ing “need” was con­sid­ered met. The cou­ple can ap­ply to join a trans­fer list.

“You’d think that nine years would be enough,” he says. “Some­one had come in the pre­vi­ous day to the coun­cil, and he was 20 years on the hous­ing list.

“Nine years isn’t a long time.”

Priced out: the av­er­age value of a three-bed­room semi-de­tached house in Dún Laoghaire rose by 61 per cent, to ¤506,000, in the five years to 2017. PHO­TO­GRAPHS: DAVE MEE­HAN

Anna Byrne: ‘I don’t need to be ly­ing on a wooden floor with blan­kets over us. I need a home.’ PHO­TO­GRAPH: BRENDA FITZSIMONS

Naly Rafaman­tanantsoa: “There are not many one-bed­rooms in the area – and they are ¤1,600. They are go­ing to move us out and rent the apart­ment to some­one else. So where are we go­ing to go?” PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DONAILL

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