Tuesday, 21 September 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
This is a difficult subject because it is a very difficult, layered and multifaceted problem. I have been contacted in recent days by residents of the Oliver Bond flats complex, just down the road from here in the south-west inner city. They are concerned about the ongoing drug-dealing in the community and the intimidation and lawlessness that goes with it. There is huge concern and anger within the Oliver Bond complex regarding this kind of behaviour. Residents feel theirs is a forgotten estate. I can understand where that is coming from. There is a lack of services in the area. There is a lack of action on the damp in the flats; 82.8% of households were complaining about damp and mould issues. Residents describe having to wipe down children's schoolbags before they go to school in the mornings as they are covered in mould.
There are plans for regeneration. There have been for a very long time. Currently the projected timeline for regeneration for the community there is 15 years. That is an entire childhood. For a child born now and living in the Oliver Bond complex, his or her entire childhood would be spent in substandard accommodation. This contributes to the feeling of it being a forgotten estate, contributes to the drug-dealing, to the crime and creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage. The residents are demanding action on the damp in their apartments. They are demanding action on the lack of services, of green spaces and of facilities. All of this, as I said, contributes to the crime that is blighting their lives and which they have been contacting me about. This is not the first time. Other Deputies in the area have raised these issues. I have been working with my local colleague, Councillor Michael Pidgeon, to raise these issues and to push them. What these residents need now is a clear timetable for when the regeneration will happen. They need financial support to provide a regeneration worker. We need funding for interim measures. While some of these interim measures may ameliorate the damp and other problems, this is a huge budget in terms of Dublin City Council's ability to renovate apartments and conduct maintenance on flats in its own housing stock. Thus we need support from the Government to help ensure these things happen.
Equally, more long-term measures are needed to address the background problems. In recent months the after-school services have come under significant pressure, given there are now cuts facing after-school services where the parents are not in employment. This ignores the role of aftercare projects with regard to educational disadvantage, social disadvantage, poverty and social exclusion. I am jumping around Departments. I have mentioned justice, housing, childcare and education. That reflects the ingrained nature of many of the problems here. Quite simply, the residents have had enough. They are saying very loudly they have had enough. They need a clear timetable for when works will happen. They need a regeneration worker to support that and they need funding now for interim measures so they are not waiting 15 years. As I said, 15 years is an entire childhood for someone growing up in the Oliver Bond flats right now.
I thank Deputy Costello for raising this very important matter. I am glad to have the opportunity to provide the House with an update on the housing conditions at Oliver Bond House. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is committed to ensuring that tenants in social housing are provided with adequate housing that meets the standards most recently laid down in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019. The Department is actively engaging with the local authority sector to promote the preventive maintenance of local authority housing stock and provides significant funding for stock improvement works. In addition to funding provided by the local authorities themselves in respect of their own housing stock, the Department provides funding across a number of programmes to support local authorities to work to maintain and improve their social housing stock. In all cases, it is the local authorities that identify priorities. The continued work of local authorities in undertaking stock condition surveys, their responsive and planned maintenance programmes, as well as important programmes such as the energy retrofitting and voids programmes seeks to support the local authorities' maintenance programmes.
With specific regard to Oliver Bond House, it was built in 1936 and is one of the oldest and largest flat complexes in Dublin with 397 units and approximately 1,200 residents. The upkeep, refurbishment and regeneration of this social housing complex is a matter, in the first instance, for the local authority. However, it is my understanding that Dublin City Council is actively engaged with the residents and is working on a number of short-term projects to improve the outdoor and common areas as well as long-term proposals for the retrofitting and refurbishment of the flats at Oliver Bond House. Dublin City Council is currently working on proposals and designs for an extensive regeneration programme that will see the total refurbishment of all 397 flats at Oliver Bond House in two phases to bring them up to modern standards, including those with respect to size and energy efficiency. Dublin City Council has indicated that a stage 1 funding application for this regeneration programme is expected to be submitted to the Department by the end of this month. I understand that, as part of this programme, Dublin City Council is in the process of establishing a regeneration community forum for the Oliver Bond complex. The Department is supportive of the regeneration of Oliver Bond House and looks forward to receiving this submission for funding consideration and will work with Dublin City Council to ascertain the appropriate funding mechanisms for this programme.
While the ongoing issues of anti-social behaviour in Oliver Bond House are a matter for Dublin City Council and An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council has advised it is aware of serious estate management issues in Oliver Bond House. Dublin City Council is working very closely with An Garda Síochána and is actively engaging with residents and assisting them at an individual level to address issues brought to its attention both directly and through the Robert Emmet Community Development Project, CDP. Dublin City Council officials also attend meetings with residents' groups to hear their concerns. There are monthly meetings with An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council's area office and there is ongoing co-operation to investigate complaints of alleged drug distribution. All complaints are investigated. If it is a criminal matter the complainant must be referred to An Garda Síochána. If An Garda Síochána makes the council aware a tenant has used his or her flat for the sale, supply or manufacture of illegal drugs then the council can act within the civil powers to seek an undertaking regarding future behaviour or recovery of the dwelling. Dublin City Council has also installed state-of-the-art security cameras to assist with the investigation of complaints of anti-social behaviour such as those referred to by the Deputy.
I thank the Minister of State for that response. Estate management is a much more difficult task when an estate is not receiving the funding or support it needs. It is a much more difficult task when the estate is facing an uphill struggle in terms of disadvantage. The Robert Emmet CDP, which the Minister of State mentioned, is doing excellent work.
Some of the excellent work it is doing highlights the depth of the problems here. In a recent survey, it said that 98% of residents were afraid to complain to Dublin City Council for fear of losing their housing. This, in particular, is a reflection of the housing crisis, which we all talk about, but also a reflection of how difficult it is to take the steps you talk about when things are a matter for DCC and An Garda Síochána. The Robert Emmet Community Development Project also identified a huge number of apartments - I think it was 82.8% or 83% - affected by damp. The total refurbishment is a positive step that we must welcome. However, the timelines on that are anywhere from ten to 15 years. We need interim measures now.
Dublin City Council has given a commitment to fund its own independent study to identify key remediation works that can be done in the short term so that the lives of residents are not blighted by damp and the estate management can be improved, while waiting those ten to 15 years for the total refurbishment. The budgetary cost of that, in terms of the Dublin City Council maintenance budget, would be massive and very difficult for the council. In terms of the national budget, however, it is not a very large figure. These are the sorts of things on which the Department needs to support Dublin City Council so that it can ultimately support the wider population in the estate and make a start on addressing all those multi-faceted issues that I raised in the first half.
I thank Deputy Costello for raising these important issues. I know the seriousness with which the Government takes this matter. The Taoiseach was on the site, as the Deputy will be aware. This is getting the highest priority in Government. There are a number of areas that Dublin City Council is currently assisting in terms of remedial works. I also mentioned the refurbishment programme for the 397 flats. We are awaiting a funding proposal for the programme for consideration by the Department over the coming weeks. It is also worth noting, as the Deputy quite rightly said, that we build sustainable communities. Related to that, Dublin City Council is working on a new all-weather surface mini-pitch complex. It is working with the community to drive the football club forward. In essence, that will build a sustainable model that is so badly needed for people in the area.
I assure the Deputy that in the first instance the Department will work together with the community, as well as with Dublin City Council, An Garda Síochána and all the State agencies to try to resolve the anti-social issues there. The one thing that is very clear to me is that there are so many genuine people and families that get caught up with this pressure. They feel victimised and under pressure, as the Deputy quite rightly pointed out. We will be not be found wanting in that regard, or in terms of the voids programme that is currently under way to upgrade a number of the complexes. I assure the Deputy that we will keep the lines of communication with him open. If any further issues arise, we would be delighted to respond to him.