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A Young Turk speaks. Social Housing… they’re lovin’ it, just not in that particular part of Sandymount. February 19, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Class, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Housing, Social Policy, Uncategorized.
6 comments

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Heartening to hear the staunch protestations in favour of social housing from Lucinda Creighton. As reported in the Irish Times:

Two of the four TDs for Dublin South East have denied they object to social and affordable housing in Sandymount after they opposed plans by developer Sean Dunne for the provision of 15 apartments in the area.

Fianna Fáil’s Chris Andrews and Fine Gael’s Lucinda Creighton both said they had no objection in principle to having more social and affordable homes in Sandymount, but were concerned about the height of a proposed four-storey development

I have always felt that ‘no objection in principle’ is as clear and transparent a way of indicating support for an issue as can be found. Other, that is, than actually saying ‘no objection at all’.

Asked whether she was opposed to the plan to develop social and affordable housing in Sandymount, Ms Creighton said “absolutely not” . Families in Sandymount would prefer to see their children getting a home locally rather than having to move out to places such as Clondalkin.

Clondalkin is a long way away. But needless to say, there are undeniable concerns.

She said some families living beside the Sandymount site were concerned about their homes being overlooked and wanted the proposed development reduced in height.

And that too is understandable. I too live in a nice part of the city, albeit one that has a rather more varied social mix than Sandymount. One might even describe it as inner city working class with a leavening of incomers. Very close to where I live there is a fire station. It is being transferred to another location. Planning permission was put in for high level residential accommodation. It failed but one presumes (given experience of such matters) that it will be eventually passed with a height restriction. One way or another I am steeling myself for the lovable prospect of upper middle class apartments overlooking my yard. It’s going to be great.

And I know that for a fact because early last Summer out and about on political errands, I could see a similar now-extant development with precisely that sort of height where as I traipsed from door to door my every move was followed by – no doubt – latte sipping latte sippers…. (actually now, that’s just plain gratuitous on my part… it could have been hot chocolate and marshmallow… or absinthe – although those I could see were drinking from cups or mugs).

And therefore I am of one mind with the doughty Ms. Creighton when it is reported that her:

…written objection claimed that the apartment block would “overlook and overshadow” the houses and gardens of neighbouring properties “and will have a visual impact on the residents”. The extra traffic would put further pressure on the already overloaded network.

The residents’ association said the development was out of character with the surroundings in terms of height, density, scale, design and materials used. It would also exacerbate traffic problems. In other areas of Dublin the surrounding properties in Church Avenue and Tritonville Road would be considered worthy of preservation by reason of their architectural surroundings.

And yet curiously, I am one hundred per cent certain that the development close to the house I live in will go ahead. Despite having precisely the same characteristics as are described above. I can’t quite work out though what’s the difference. Perhaps someone could enlighten me…

This Ireland… 2. Rented property, metered televisions… and er… spying on the tenants. November 16, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Housing, Social Policy, This Ireland.
17 comments

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One of the weirdly counter-intuitive aspects of the current housing situation in Ireland is the way in which the near-impossibility of acquiring homes has led to something of a golden age for the rental sector. Well, a golden age for those who own rental property. Rents are rising as lack of supply leads to increasing demand. Ah yes. A wondrous time. And as with all such times certain oddities emerge…

Take for example the news on Wednesday.

Reported in the Irish Times under the heading: Landladies ordered to pay students €115,000 in damages

The details are as follows…

Two Dublin landladies have been ordered to pay damages totalling more than €115,000 to 10 students who were tenants in their house after the Circuit Court found they had kept the students under secret electronic surveillance.

The tenants, from Mayo, Galway, Donegal, Armagh and Monaghan, rented rooms in 46 Mobhi Road in Glasnevin from Rita McKenna and her daughter, Edel, in 2003 and 2004 while studying at the nearby colleges, Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin City University and St Patrick’s College in Drumcondra.

While the conditions were as good or as bad as one might expect there was a lovely touch…

The students paid €80 a week for a shared room and €90 for a single room, and an extra €5 for a meter-operated television. The McKennas lived in a separate part of the house. Nine bedrooms in the property were rented out, mostly to students.

But television, metered or unmetered wasn’t the problem.

The students became concerned in late 2004 that their conversations and activities were being monitored when the McKennas referred to details the students had discussed in private in the house. When they raised the issue with the McKennas, the students were evicted.

And as the judge noted:

the tenants were “unceremoniously evicted with less than four hours’ notice and left to their own devices with their belongings in black bin bags and boxes”.

The case threw up the surprising conclusion by the judge that…

…the evidence in the case left him “in no doubt whatsoever that the defendants had kept these plaintiffs under electronic surveillance”.

He continued that…

… he could not say whether it was audio or video surveillance or both, but he was concerned that yellow wires found in the house were of the international standard used for video recording.

This conclusion being drawn from…

…wires were found during a search on December 3rd, 2004, when Ms Hegarty’s solicitor and a garda called to the house on the back of a court order. Solicitor Fergus Gallagher and Garda Alan Sherlock found themselves locked out of the house by the McKennas when they arrived.

A very very unwise thing to do. The Judge…

…found the students’ rights to privacy had been infringed and he awarded them damages varying from €7,500 to €12,500 each.

Still, one has to ask, why on earth were the landlords – or ‘ladies’ (and isn’t the original an incredibly revealing word when one thinks about it?) spying on them in the first place and what led them to believe this was appropriate behaviour in 2007?

But then, why look for explanations? The narrative of ‘ownership’ and the narrative of control are far far too close together sometimes. It’s not just libertarians of the anarcho-capitalist variety who believe that signing a contract invalidates the most basic rights to privacy and autonomy. Or rather that contracts work only in one direction, that direction being from the person who owns to the person who does not. A very basic power relationship played out before the Irish courts. Call it capital, if you wish. But sometimes – when it overstretches itself and seeks to dominate the entirety of the social space – capital loses.

Donald Horne once wrote about how in liberal-democratic societies, where, in varying degrees, the ‘myths’ of capitalist enterprise become ‘legitimations’ of the social order…’. He also noted that ‘most (capitalists) are not risk-taking entrepreneurs and controllers of small businesses, but investeros, or speculators in shares, in real estate… how they gain an income is not honourable by many of the standards of ‘the traditional virtues’, nor by the standards of utility of the free enterprise ‘myth’ ‘. It’s funny, isn’t it, how rented property points up this sense of ‘not [being] honourable’ if only because this is the sharp end, sharper still even than the work context, the domestic, the place where people live and seek refuge. But this is, at it’s most primitive, the place where the transactional aspects are also most evident, unmediated by mortgages or other.

Having been that soldier as regards renting my sympathies are with the students. Very definitely three cheers for them on this one… And fair dues to them for actually going to law. If we don’t try to take on that sort of abuse of power (and this incidentally holds as much for those who believe capital works well – after in the contemporary period all systems requires self-evident ‘legitimations’ as to utility and fairness however much they deviate from that in practice) how will we ever know what can be achieved?

What do you do with a hungry and injured ten year old boy? November 14, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Housing, Ireland.
6 comments

Time constraints, and a desire to get this post right, mean it is a week today since I stopped by the Bank of Ireland ATM under the big portico at the bottom of Westmoreland Street on my way to meet a friend for lunch. Waiting in the queue I noticed the all too familiar sight of someone begging next to the ATM. My general reaction to this, and to most forms of street begging is to avert my eyes, sometimes with a mumbled expression of regret. The guilt lasts no more than a few minutes and I can come up with plenty of justifications for not giving money on streets.

But there was something different about this one. Firstly, he was clearly very young, probably around 12, but he might have been younger, something which was to my surprise become important later on. Secondly, despite a very cold and windy day he was without the blanket, sleeping bag and hat combination that many homeless people have acquired. Finally, and I only noticed this as I drew to the head of the queue, his face was recently bruised in a number of places and he appeared in some discomfort when he moved. The combination of all this led me to drop a two Euro coin into his cup before I drew out my money. While I was doing so he started trying to talk to me and attract my attention. A number of weeks ago a very good, and far more compassionate friend of mine had told me how she was late for our dinner together because she had passed a child in the street as young as her own and couldn’t walk away without getting him something to eat and I suppose it was her better example that led me to crouch down to talk to him.

His story was that the night before he had been attacked by two junkies. They had stolen his small stash of money and they had stolen his blanket and coat. I asked him if he went to hospital and he said he did and showed me recent stitches in his gums. The hospital had allowed him to stay overnight but now he badly needed a place to stay. I suggested Simon, but he claimed that he was too old. I suggested the Council, and he said the problem was the same.  I asked him what he planned to do and he told me if he got 50 Euros together he could get into a certain hostel, which he named but I’ve since forgotten, and on the basis of that money he could stay for 12 weeks, taking him right through Christmas. He reckoned, after I asked, that he had about 15 Euros.

So, was I being conned? I wasn’t sure then, and I’m not sure now. Handing 35 Euros to a child on the side of the road might be the morally right thing to do, or it might be a stupid thing to do. I decided I needed more information and asked the boy if he would be staying there and he said he would if the Gardaí didn’t move him, which he reckoned was likely. Nevertheless, unsure what to do, off I went.

Back at the office, I picked up the phone and rang Simon where the boy’s story was confirmed. The woman who answered the phone told me Simon doesn’t deal with under 18s. A bizarre, and no doubt unfair, image of Simon Outreach people on soup runs checking for birth certs came to mind but with the legislation around child protection in the country, I supposed there must be some reason for it. The woman did tell me though that Focus Ireland deal with children. So I ran them and told them what had happened. I was asked how old the boy was and I said he was about 10-12 years old. I was then told Focus doesn’t deal with children under the age of 12. Slightly nonplussed by this I said he might be 12 and this caused some confusion on the other end where the person dealing with me, who confessed she had only picked up the phone in the absence of a colleague, tried to figure out what to do. She said if he was under 12 and had been attacked I should call the police. I pointed out, perhaps wrongly, that the boy was afraid of being moved on by the police and I wasn’t sure how he’d react to a squad car pulling up.

Eventually, I was given the name and number of someone who worked in a Focus Ireland drop-in centre, so I rang her. The woman was clearly in the middle of something and said she’d call me back in a couple of minutes and did so, heard me out and gave me the number of a Social Welfare office she said dealt with this sort of thing. I then called the Social Welfare office who were, it being lunchtime, at lunch and left a lengthy message and my contact details. Not really knowing what else to do but a bit surprised that I didn’t seem to be the only one, I got back to work.

Later that afternoon I came out of a meeting to discover a missed call from a Social Welfare official that I immediately returned. The person who answered told me the official was on a call and would call me straight back. I’ve not heard from her since. Later that evening, leaving work, I detoured a little back to the Bank of Ireland ATM on Westmoreland St and the boy, whose name I discovered I had never even thought to ask whereas it would have been the most normal thing in the world for me to do, was gone. Without knowing where the boy is, how do I tell social services or the homeless organisations what they need to know to help?

I’m not sure if I did the right or wrong thing. I’m also not having a dig at Simon, Focus or Social Workers. The first two do a great deal of really valuable work and having known a couple of the last some of them deal with problems on a daily basis which would put the rest of us in therapy. She could have called me back, I could have called her back. I got busy at work and no doubt she did too. But I’m still surprised that at my very first call someone wasn’t able to say, this is who you ring, this is why it is them that you ring and this is what they will do.

Come December, there will be a number of stories in the print and broadcast media about homelessness. I suspect a journalist somewhere will even have the original idea to spend a night, maybe even a week, as a homeless adult male as a way of awakening people to the plight of the homeless at that time of year when people might be in the mood to give just that little bit more. I’d personally appreciate it if somewhere in the piece the journalist in question could tell me what exactly should a concerned citizen do when he sees a hungry and injured ten year old boy by the side of the road?

Is this what we’ve come to? The Dublin City Council Affordable Housing Lottery. November 30, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Housing, Irish Politics, Social Policy.
11 comments

Wednesday has an interesting and informative post on the Affordable Housing Scheme promoted by Dublin City Council which points up the absurdities of the current situation.

As it happened I was in the office of a friend of mine yesterday and she had a form for the Affordable Housing lottery. Although I knew of the lottery I hadn’t appreciated what it meant in practice. Well I was soon disabused of that lack of knowledge.

She had the forms, statements validating salary and assorted legalistic stuff. And she was genuinely excited about the prospect of entering it. The brochure issued by the Council was impressively printed, full colour photographs of our current slightly fussy modernist apartment blocks from a wide variety of locations across Dublin city. Yet the telling aspect was the quantities available as against those entering the lottery. 800 here for 24 apartments there, 900 there for 16 apartments here. These aren’t great odds, in fact they’re terrible. Effectively we can expect approximately one in every 56 or so applicants to be successful.

Now, I know rationally that this may well be a means of doing this, given the limited supply, but really can there be anything more irritating to those engaged in this process than a lottery? Is that what they mean when they say we’re all consumers and customers now? Where does it end? Scratch cards from newsagents?

I purchased my house through the Shared Ownership Scheme in 1999. It so happened the salaries at chez WorldbyStorm were sufficiently impoverished to permit acceptance to the scheme. Despite the hassle subsequently with electrics, plastering, carpets etc it exists, and I readily appreciate the good fortune in that.

Shared Ownership was no picnic. In fact it was an unbelievably depressing process to engage in with no certainty of success at any point along the way. But psychologically wearing as it was, the prospect of success was there – I’d guess that at least 50% of those who engaged in the process finally purchased properties (although I’d be interested to see statistics on this). In the Affordable Housing proces one is hobbled from the beginning. And as Wednesday points out, the real problem is the supply side. Simply put there aren’t enough properties available. Even a 20% allocation for social and affordable properties strikes me as unlikely to make a real bite in the problem – and short of significant government intervention that simply isn’t going to happen.

So what do we do? As someone on the left I find the solution difficult to envision – so I’ll suggest a raft of them. A greater set aside – well to my mind yes, that’s a start. But also perhaps a reconsideration of the role of the state and private sector in this area. I’m not antagonistic to a role for the private sector in this area – but part of the problem appears to be that the private sector dominates the nature of the debate and the production process. This seems to me to be a case where regulation is necessary – and perhaps the adjustment of social policy back towards production for the state to be purchased by incoming tenants. I’m entirely comfortable with the Council being my mortgage provider. Indeed I prefer it that way for my own ideological reasons.

On a slight tangent, I’m not too worried about the nature of ownership, whether it is communal or individual, within associations or not. But I think actual ownership is crucial to engender a positive and – dare I say – responsible approach to properties particularly those facilitated by the state. And that is something the left should, and perhaps is, assimilating.

And also as Wednesday suggests the nature of accommodations should be looked at, but I’d put it slightly differently. Does it make sense to assume that singletons will remain single? Or family sizes will be indeterminately restricted to couples? Or build units with one-bedroom accommodation knowing that the market is more broad based than that? And incidentally, lest the market driven aspect of this be dragged in, I spent five years working for a group of companies that provided amongst other things electrical fittings and lighting to the construction sector. Having trooped through private apartment being built across Dublin in the late 1990s one of the most striking aspects of their construction was the remarkable lack of differentiation between supposedly ‘luxury’ and supposedly ‘standard’ apartments in term of size, internal layout and so on. An interesting market which promotes a grim homogeneity of product and then lauds minor difference as ‘luxury’. The reality is that other than the high end of the market these products are far too similar and far too limited and inflexible.

On a broader point one of the more interesting aspects of this is whether the nature of urban living in Ireland will shift towards the European model of high density accommodation rather than estate living. So far there’s precious little evidence of the former and rather too much of the latter.

But as to the present am I alone in finding the concept of a lottery somehow a ‘dumbing-down’ of the process and an insult to both the intelligence and entirely reasonable expectations of those who seek a place of their own in this city?

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