Residents and council in dispute over homeless hubs

Residents close to the Mater Dei hub in Drumcondra fear ‘new ghetto’

St Lawrence Road: the Housing Agency paid almost €2 million for the former B&B. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

St Lawrence Road: the Housing Agency paid almost €2 million for the former B&B. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The extent of local opposition to planned homeless hubs is revealed in documents released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

A row broke out between Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and residents of Clontarf after the Housing Agency bought a former bed and breakfast in a pair of red-brick Victorian houses on St Lawrence Road earlier this year.

Similar opposition to a hub located on the Mater Dei campus in Drumcondra was also raised. The properties on St Laurence Road, for which the agency paid €194,000 more than the original asking price of €1.8 million, were intended to provide accommodation for 13 homeless families that are currently living in hotels. Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, which is run by Dublin City Council in partnership with the capital’s three other local authorities and a range of State agencies, says the project will open at the end of the month.

Correspondence released to The Irish Times shows that residents living close to the Mater Dei homeless hub and the planned hub on St Laurence Road have repeatedly expressed concerns about the way Dublin City Council has gone about renovating the properties.

One resident living close to the Mater Dei Hub in Drumcondra, in an email to the executive dated March 9th, 2017, described the situation as a disgrace. “The local community will fight this tooth and nail if we must,” the resident wrote. “I’ve spoken to many residents today who are extremely angry and upset with this affront on us, and the cloak-and-dagger way it was carried out. We are the ones who will have to deal with the issues created by this. The local community will not take this lying down.” “This will be a new ghetto in our community,” another resident wrote. “We are trying to get people to buy houses and move back into the area. This will turn that upside down.” *

Residents of St Lawrence Road have accused the council of bypassing planning laws and ignoring its own development plan because there is a homelessness emergency. The executive strongly denies that the council ignored its own regulations to fast-track the project. Under section 179 (6) (b)of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, which allows for immediate action in emergencies, the council agreed that a full application for change of use would not be required.

Residents have in addition written to the local Fianna Fáil TD Seán Haughey and to Minister for Education Richard Bruton, of Fine Gael, who also represents Dublin Bay North, asking them to help seek clarity on the project. The Minister wrote to Dublin City Council on behalf of constituents to query work on the property and recent break-ins on the road. “Addressing the issue of homelessness is a key priority of this Government, and all Ministers in the Cabinet are fully supportive of Minster Murphy’s efforts in this regard,” a spokeswoman for the Minister said.

Dublin Regional Homeless Executive told Mr Haughey on June 23rd that it had been inundated with telephone calls and emails about the project. “Much of the contact, I regret to say, has been aggressive and at times abusive. Residents have attempted to make spurious links between the works being carried out and recent burglaries and have made incorrect claims about damage to protected elements of the property,” a representative of the executive said.

The executive added that it had dedicated significant resources to answering the concerns of residents and could not justify spending more time engaging with them. One resident of St Lawrence Road told The Irish Times that they appreciated the homelessness crisis but questioned the council’s priorities. “The whole house has been gutted on the inside, and all the furniture that was in the house was thrown out. We are not unsympathetic, but the council could have purchased a family home with the money that has gone into renovating these Victorian properties.”

The homeless executive says its priority is to complete the work in order to make “much needed quality temporary accommodation” available to homeless families and their children.

Correction Monday, September 25th, 2017: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed this quote to residents from St Laurence Road. The quote was in fact from residents living near the Mater Dei campus in Drumcondra.