A deepening crisis
The homeless crisis that hit Dublin within the past year is not going away. Instead, it is likely to worsen. Rents for private accommodation are rising. There is a shortfall in home construction. And banks are beginning to deal with mortgage arrears in a way that is likely to increase the number of home repossessions. In that context, the decision by Dublin City councillors to reject plans for the refurbishment of flats at O’Devaney Gardens as emergency accommodation for homeless families was unwise. The death of John Corrie, who was sleeping rough in a doorway near Leinster House last December, was a shocking development that focused public attention on the growing incidence of homelessness. In response, the Government undertook to build or refurbish some 35,000 social housing units within six years. Some €35m was to be spent in bringing 1,750 boarded-up council homes across Dublin back into use while the O’Devaney Gardens project was to get €4.5m of that investment.
The construction of high quality social housing would obviously be the preferred solution to this crisis. But it takes time to go through the necessary planning and construction processes and these families cannot wait. Most of them lost their homes because they could not afford rent increases. They are now living in emergency hotel and B&B accommodation that is totally unsuited to family life. Lacking cooking facilities and at a distance from their children’s schools, they are struggling to hold their families together.
Charitable organisations working with distressed parents and families have been sharply critical of Dublin City councillors. While acknowledging that the refurbishment project was a temporary fix and suffered from severe limitations, they pointed out that the families affected would have welcomed its adoption. An estimated 411 families, involving 911 children, are being housed in emergency accommodation in Dublin and that figure is growing.
Councillors came under pressure from local residents who had been treated badly for years. The flats complex had been allowed to decay and promises of refurbishment were regularly broken. Partial demolition led to the transfer of tenants and now, redevelopment was being postponed while outsiders were being facilitated. These are real and long-standing grievances but they should not override the immediate needs of homeless families.
Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has expressed concern that the decision may set a precedent for other refurbishment projects involving boarded-up local authority homes. He has written to councillors seeking their cooperation. Frustrated by the O’Devaney decision, he has called on them to endorse Government projects or produce alternative solutions. All parties owe a duty of care to homeless families.