Thursday, 14 October 2021
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
In budget 2022, the Government has effectively signalled that it has given up on inner city flat complexes. The Government has started waving the white flag. It feels to residents and me that the neglect will continue. The Government has turned its back on Dubliners living in flat complexes. I have consistently highlighted the shocking conditions that Dublin City Council residents have to live in due to that neglect. For me and the communities that I represent, the €23 million cut to State regeneration funding, despite the unacceptable conditions of older social housing and flat complexes, is devastating. Residents of flat complexes have been told by this Government that it is giving up on residents and that they can continue to live in the rat infestation, the flooding, dampness and decay. I am the first to hold Dublin City Council to account. However, the council cannot do the necessary work if it is not given the resources. The Government is using the council as a mudguard. This budget and the cuts to regeneration allocation highlight where responsibility lies. Residents know that it lies squarely on the lap of the Government. This budget shines a light on that.
I recently got a list of 23 flat complexes that Dublin City Council planned to regenerate. With a cut to regeneration funding, the reality is that most people reading this list will not be alive by the time the council gets halfway down it. Sinn Féin sees the dire circumstances that residents in flat complexes live in. We allocated increased funding for flat regeneration in our alternative budget. We did this because we know that no Government could or should stand over the conditions that residents are expected to live in. I have said many times here that Dublin City Council should set up a pilot scheme to tackle the extreme rat infestation in the flats. More intense levels of baiting and tackling nests of rats are urgently needed. The council also needs to carry out a repair programme immediately to fix the drains. The drains are a source of rats. They harbour rats. They are old drains and they need to be fixed urgently.
In 2017, a ruling was made by the European Committee of Social Rights that Ireland had breached Article 16 of the revised European Social Charter. The committee went on to say that the Irish State had failed to ensure the right to housing of an adequate standard for a not insignificant number of families. Four years on from this ruling, nothing has changed for the people living and paying rent in these State-owned homes and flats. Across the inner city, many flats are in a shocking condition. Tenants describe living there as a constant battle. Every day, they face a constant battle against the conditions inflicted on them by Dublin City Council, this Government and neglect.
Why has the State not acted to amend its failings? Is it content to have its citizens living in such dire conditions?
I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. I am glad to have an opportunity to discuss the European committee ruling and, in particular, the regeneration budget and the regeneration of social housing and flat complexes in inner-city Dublin. These housing complexes are intrinsic to the city and have huge cultural and heritage significance but should be habitable to modern and current standards. The Government and my Department, in particular, have given careful consideration to the report of the European Committee of Social Rights.
My Department is committed to ensuring 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. To address the issues raised in the report, my Department is actively engaging with the local authority sector to promote the preventative maintenance of local authority housing stock and provide significant funding for stock improvement works. In addition to funding provided by local authorities in respect of their housing stock, which is around €350 million annually, my Department provides funding across a number of programmes to support work by local authorities to maintain and improve their social housing stock. In all cases, it is local authorities that identify the priorities.
With regard to ageing flat complexes in Dublin city, following reviews of older flat complexes and based on the need to modernise and bring living conditions up to acceptable levels as part of its climate action plans, Dublin City Council is developing a long-term strategy for the redevelopment and-or refurbishment of these complexes. My Department has worked consistently with the council in support of the efforts to advance the proposals, including the regeneration of Pearse House, Oliver Bond House and Constitution Hill, which we will continue to do.
Capital funding was mentioned by the Deputy. A figure of €50 million will be provided in 2022 to support the national regeneration programme. This is not a reduction in funding but an increase of €4 million on the €46 million budgeted for in the programme for 2021. It is important to note that to date the regeneration-remedial subhead in my Department's Vote has provided funding for a range of important supports in addition to the national regeneration programme, including the remedial works programme and improvement works, extensions and adaptation programmes providing funding for local authority social homes to support the needs of older people and people with a disability.
Reflecting the critical nature of these supports in meeting the needs of some of the most vulnerable sectors of our community, it was agreed as part of budget 2022 that the funding for these programmes will no longer be reflected under the regeneration-remedial subhead. Instead, a dedicated and separate funding stream for these supports will be established next year. To that end, I am pleased my Department has secured capital funding of €25 million in 2022 to ensure we can continue to provide these important programmes which assist and maintain people in their homes for as long as possible.
I thank the Minister of State. It is important to state the vast majority of the residents of the flats complexes are hard-working, involved, active participants in their community. A huge number of them were working on the front line during the pandemic. They are committed to their community. When someone is hurt, they get behind them and stand with them.
The new York Street apartments are only 12 years old. One entire block was flooded during the week. There was a major flood and residents had to be moved out to a hotel across the road. The conditions are so bad, residents cannot be left there in the apartments. There are ongoing issues. Some windows cannot open and some cannot close. There are rats nesting under the balconies. These apartments are 12 years old. They are not old. Residents are living in fear. One woman had her flat flooded seven times in the last couple of years. She is terrified.
Dublin City Council's treatment of the residents can only be called neglect. Someone living in a private tenancy can bring the landlord to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and get some resolution to the various issues. Dublin City Council tenants have nowhere to go. The council is judge and jury. It is unfair and needs to be changed. I ask that the Department examine having an independent moderator or arbitrator where Dublin City Council tenants can be heard when there are issues like this. Dublin City Council is judge and jury and it is not acceptable.
The conditions the Deputy has described are unacceptable. When the issue was raised in relation to Oliver Bond House by Deputy Bríd Smith, I had direct contact with the residents association there. It has been very active in Oliver Bond House and I give it great credit for that. That approach from a residents association is good but we have to make inroads in resolving these issues. To that end, the Department has given careful consideration to the findings of the European committee ruling and is committed to ensuring 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.
My Department is working with Dublin City Council to progress a number of projects in Dublin's inner city, with 54 units at St. Teresa's Gardens completed in quarter 4 of 2020 and 72 under construction at Dominick Street on the east side. A number of projects are in the pre-construction process, including Pearse House, Constitution Hill, Dorset Street and Matt Talbot Court.
Dublin City Council has engaged with residents of Oliver Bond House on a number of short-term projects to improve outdoor common areas and on long-term proposals for retrofitting and refurbishment of the flats of Oliver Bond House. The council is working on proposals and design for an extensive programme that will see a total refurbishment of all 397 of the flats, which have huge architectural value. They are Herbert Simms-designed buildings. A stage 1 submission is expected imminently. The restructuring of the regeneration-remedial works subhead into two distinct funding streams demonstrates an increased commitment in this area, with an increase from €46 million to €50 million for regeneration and a separate budget of €25 million for remedial works, improvements and adaptations.
I hope this is of use to the Deputy. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is committed to working with Dublin City Council to resolve the issues that have been highlighted. The types of living conditions the Deputy described are unacceptable and need to be resolved.