Regeneration of local authority estates ‘cannot be left to market’

Fatima Mansions still struggling with crime and drugs ‘because of five families’

Joe Donoghue, a youth worker in the regenerated Fatima Mansions (above), said that despite enormous improvements in the area since 2009, problems remained.  Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Joe Donoghue, a youth worker in the regenerated Fatima Mansions (above), said that despite enormous improvements in the area since 2009, problems remained. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 10:43

Five years on from the regeneration of the Fatima Mansions estate in Dublin’s south inner city, the area is “still struggling with . . . crime, drugs and gangs because of just five families”, a social housing conference has heard.

Joe Donoghue, a youth worker in Fatima Mansions said that despite enormous improvements in the area since 2009, problems remained.

“Public building alone will not regenerate unless there is also investment by other departments. It is very difficult to get [the Departments of] Health, Education and Justice involved.”

As former chairman of Fatima Groups United, Mr Donoghue has been involved in campaigns for the regeneration of other local authority estates in Dublin. He was speaking yesterday at a conference hosted by UCD’s Geary Institute, titled Social Conditions and Social Housing: Past, Present and Future.

Mr Donoghue said the biggest issues for residents in some local authority estates needing regeneration were: “crime, safety, fear, intimidation”.

Struggle

“In Fatima, before regeneration, there were a lot of chaotic families involved in drugs and crime. That has reduced a lot but we are still struggling with levels of crime, drugs and gangs because of just five families. You’d be tearing your hair out.”

Key to changing this was investment in early interventions, high-quality childcare from a young age and family supports.

“Sometimes we’re still too slow to intervene to protect the children because it seems a bit right-wing. It’s a challenge the new Child and Family Agency will have to meet if we are to break that cycle.”

He argued in favour of a strong social mix in regenerated areas, of social housing, affordable, owner-occupied, private rented and student accommodation, as was the case in Fatima. Not only was this more socially sustainable than large-scale social housing, he said it strengthened the political power of the community.

Political class

The political class was more likely to listen to communities with economic power and who voted, he said.

Regeneration of communities such as Dolphin House and St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore could not depend on the “return of the housing market”, he said.

“We need a new vision which puts partnership at the heart of social housing policy. We need to learn from our mistakes. Waiting for the market to return would be a disaster.”

Trutz Haase, an economic and social consultant who has mapped the rise and fall of affluence in the State, said many areas – particularly in the commuter belts – saw a significant increase in affluence through the Celtic Tiger. This had been almost wiped out with the recession.

There had been, however, “massive achievements” in some aspects of life in areas with a lot of social housing, he said, for example the level of education of residents.

“Clearly something very significant has happened,” he said. However, these areas remained among the poorest and most deprived in the State.