28 December, 2018

Quality Housing? Let's look to Vienna

Quality housing? Dublin can learn a lot from Vienna in  providing decent well-designed housing at rents people can afford. They’ve being doing this well since 1919 and before, and they’re proud of what they do. That’s why earlier this month they invited decision-makers from around the world to find out more about the ‘Viennese Model’ at the ‘Housing for All’ Conference in Austria.

You'll hear more about housing in Vienna in 2019. Dublin City Council's Head of Housing Policy Research and Development Daithí Downey has ensured that  an exhibition that featured as a side-event at the conference will come to Dublin this Spring. It will showcase good examples from Vienna of new and refurbished public housing. Most of Vienna’s inhabitants live in subsidised dwellings, and the city itself owns 220,000 homes.

Kathrin Gaál, Chair of Vienna`s Housing Committee said at the conference: "We in Vienna view housing as a fundamental right and regard it as a public task."

Before I went to Vienna I worked out that the average rent for a two-bed house in Stoneybatter is around €1,700 a month. An equivalent apartment in Vienna would be around €330 per month, or one fifth the price. In Austria affordable rental housing isn't just for the least well-off, it is available to most residents. 

Most people in Vienna rent, and most rent from the city itself, or the equivalent of our Approved Housing Bodies, similar to the Iveagh Trust or Respond Housing. During the 'Red Vienna' period from 1918 to 1934 the city built more than 60,000 homes. Back in Dublin Herbert Simms as Dublin Corporation's Housing Architect ensured that 17,000 homes were built between 1932 to 1948, not an inconsiderable achievement a few years after Vienna had kicked things off.

The difference in Austria is that political leaders believe in public housing, and they are building well-designed mixed-income public housing in significant numbers today. I was blown away by the quality of the housing stock, the attention given to detail and the good management of what they have. There is enormous civic pride in a city that goes out of its way to use housing policy to bring society together, rather than create divisions. They're not afraid to build high density public housing, but at the same time the quality of exterior landscaping, the planting and the generous balconies were something that you don't see too often in Dublin. 

Since 1919 they've had a 1% tax on employment, split between employee and employer, and this helps fund ongoing investment in housing. They've also had a luxury tax, originally imposed on riding-horses, large private cars, servants in private households, and hotel rooms, but still in use today to provide decent housing for all.

The conference was linked in to the New Urban Agenda, which came out of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, and is all about sustainable urban development. It will hopefully lead to more pressure on the European Union to help tackle housing challenges, and that's something that I intend doing if elected to the European Parliament for Dublin next May. I took the opportunity while in Vienna to meet up with my European Green party colleague Maria Vassilakou who is Deputy-Mayor of Vienna. The Greens share power with the Social Democratic Party in Vienna, and she is working to ensure that the bulk of housing on larger sites will be either city housing, or provided at affordable rents.

I travelled to Austria with colleagues from our City Council in Dublin, as well as some of Dublin City Council's senior housing officials. Most of the housing I saw in Vienna was well-designed, properly managed and mixed in tenure. The Austrians having been doing this well for a hundred years. Cost-rental housing provides the opportunity to do this in Dublin and is worth supporting. Hopefully Minister Eoghan Murphy TD and his senior staff will pick up on this and apply some of the lessons from Vienna to Dublin's housing crisis.

04 July, 2018

New dawn for O'Devaney Gardens

Nice to have a sunny warm morning to launch the start of construction for 56 Council homes on the O'Devaney Gardens site. Our new Lord Mayor Councillor Niall Ring did the honours of digging the first sod, flanked by our local Minister Paschal Donohoe and the Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy. Our Chief Executive Owen Keegan and City Architect Ali Grehan were in attendance, as was the Secretary-General from Housing John McCarthy. It was great to have Councillor Janice Boylan there as well, as she grew up in the flats. There's a pic of some of the crowd and media looking on as Niall put the spade in the ground. There's still four blocks standing of the old O'Devaney Gardens, and some of the residents are in the picture. The scheme is a good one, the homes will be A3-rated and range from two to three stories high. Too low you might argue, but they are adjacent to small one story-high homes, and the design by the Dublin City Architects is a good one.

The Public Private Partnership deal with Bernard McNamara for this site and others collapsed ten years ago, and casts a long shadow over the failure to provide decent housing in Dublin City. What happened to day is progress , but there are other issues that need to be addressed as the scheme proceeds.

Looking ahead to the 500 other homes it is important to keep the momentum going. They entire development is intended be a  mixed-tenure: 50% private, 30% social (both Council and approved housing body) and 20% affordable. This is a Council owned site, and I would have preferred a higher proportion of Council homes, but there wasn't support for this from the Department of Housing. I've nicked the images of the housing from the Dublin City Architects blog, and you can see their excellent posting here.

I am concerned that the remainder of the development will be bundled into one contract. This apparently has been a requirement of the National Development Finance Agency I believe it is wrong to  put all our eggs in the one basket, because if the developer goes belly-up, we'll be left with nothing. I'd prefer if it was divided into three separate contracts.

There is also a compelling argument to put the infrastructure into one contract separate from all of this. This would include water and sewage pipes, gas and lighting and other public realm works.

The original Masterplan approved by Bord Pleanála showed a public space in the centre of development, described as being similar to Sandymount Green. I am concerned that the green infrastructure might be reduced in favour of low-maintenance finishes such as plastic matting and concrete, and will be watching this closely. Of course the Phoenix park isn't far away, but the football pitches in the Park are, and it is important that there's somewhere for teenagers and younger children to play without having to cross busy roads. Quality finishes and well-designed public spaces are crucial to the success of the scheme. As issues around  the public realm and place-making grow in importance it is important that we get this right. Down in the Docklands there have been problems around what is private space and what is public, the boundaries and responsibility was  blurred and we need to get this right here.

It is also crucial that there are shops and work-spaces provided in the overall design. Otherwise it is at risk of becoming a ghetto. The original plans featured a neighbourhood centre, and while the new Lidl up the road at Hanlon's Corner reduces the need for shops, it makes sense that there are some retail or work  units. Who knows what the future of retail is in 2018, but a row of small units that could have a Centra, a hairdressers, a bike shop or a cafe make sense and could provide services, jobs and training for residents and others. Some form of community space is also crucial.

There's been some calls for underground parking, but I believe this would be too expensive. Such spaces cost around €40,000 a pop, and the money would be better spent on community space. the 46A also runs right past the door, and good quality links to other public transport such as the Luas are nearby. We should ensure that dedicated parking for car-sharing is included in the plans, and of course space for DublinBikes.

Today was a good day, but we need to get the details right as we move on.

01 April, 2018

Good news for Moore Street?

On 29th March 2018 Eamon Ryan TD and I met with Frederich Ludewig of Acme: the firm employed by Hammerson PLC to work on a revised design for the extensive lands that they control on and around Moore Street in Dublin's north inner city. 

The drawings that Frederich showed us display a clear understanding of the urban grain of the site. They are a marked change from the over-scaled plans drawn up some years ago for the site. Interestingly he is considering a small public square that would lie on a new East-West route that would run from O'Connell Street across to the entrance to the ILAC centre on Moore Street. 

He was accompanied by Simon Betty, head of Hammerson Ireland and Julia Collier, their head of Public Affairs Hammerson Ireland as well as Jackie Gallagher of Q4. I asked them were they going to be taken over by the French company Klépierre, and they deftly kicked that one to touch. Moore Street is a classic example of urban decay and possible renewal, but the growing influence of global companies is self-evident when you see that Klépierre is being advised by Goldman Sachs and Citibank. Perhaps I'm too nostalgic, but I feel it is worrying that global companies are taking over lands that were previously owned by local families. Saskia Sassen has a lot to say on this issue. If Hammerson isn't taken over by Klépierre hopefully they will proceed with a sensitive development on the site. It will need to respects the small-grain character and the presence of history on the site. This has been discussed at lenght by the Lord mayor's Committee on Moore Stret set up by Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh, and the Moore Street Consultative Group, set up by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and chaired by Tom Collins.

Frederich seemed open to not proceeding with the 500 underground car parking spaces that were one of the crazier aspects of the Planning Permission (PL 29N.232347) granted by Bord Pleanála. This permission has been extended to 2022 by City Council officials. These plans even included an ugly car ramp on one side of O'Rahilly Parade, along with various utility cabinets. Not the best of commemorative tributes for someone who gave their life for Irish freedom. All the more reason to come up new plans for the site. I don't envy them their job. With online retail sales chomping up the high street at 2% a year, it is hard to make predictions about the future of shopping streets. What we do know though, is that they'll have to offer people a more attractive option that suburban malls or curling up on the couch with your tablet. If we make attractive places, they'll attract customers.

Hamerson seem to be well aware of the need to retain and conserve the buildings on the site that are Protected Structures (Listed Buildings) in the Dublin City Council Development Plan, but will also need to respect the buildings deemed of regional importance in the Government's National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. It is also worth keeping in public ownership the streets and lanes that are currently publicly accessible in the area, even if new routes or squares are added. I'm hoping that there will be a significant residential element in the new design. This was minimised in the original 'Dublin Central' scheme. It would be no harm to have 'eyes on the street' as Jane Jacobs would have said, but it would also be important that the scheme provide some of the homes that we need to tackle the housing crisis. It is also important that the views of existing traders on street figure in the proposals. One worrying aspect though might be the emergence of publicly accessible but privately owned or controlled open spaces within the development. We've already seen this happen in Dublin's Docklands, and there have been incidents of harassment from private security staff. It would be worrying if this were to happen on the streets and back-lanes that witnessed the birth of the nation.

Thankfully Dublin City Council controls an important piece of the jigsaw. This is our cleansing depot at 24-25 Moore Street. This piece of land is a crucial element of any redevelopment, and the City Council will have the final say on whether to release this important site for redevelopment. Let's see what Hammerson come up with. Hopefully it will be a significant improvement on the existing Planning Permission. There's talk in the plans of a John Lewis store fronting on to O'Connell Street which could be just the kind of lift the area needs, particularly with the Luas Cross City in place, and plans for Metrolink proceeding.

That pic at the top? That's 2 Moore Street. Ear-marked for demolition in the current plans, it would be good to retain this building and others and add an extra few floors on top. Wouldn't it be great to have ground floor shopping with families living over the shop once more?