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Lena Jordan talks about the upcoming plans to redevelop O'Devaney Gardens in Dublin 7
O'Devaney Gardens redevelopment is only beginning. The tenants of the local authority complex are trying to organise themselves, so they can demand what their community needs effectively when the tender is given to a developer.
O'Devaney Gardens (ODG) is a local authority housing estate comprised of just under 300 flats, located at the end of the North Circular Road in the west of the inner city. It is a 16-acre site adjacent to the Phoenix Park, close to the Red LUAS line, Heuston Station and within walking distance of the city centre, the 'new' Smithfield and the courts district. At present Dublin City Council (DCC) have put out a tender for redeveloping the entire site. Three private developers are in the running for the awarding of the tender. The plan for development has not been finalised yet, and the tenants of ODG are unsure of what the final outcome of the transformation of their home will look like.
I met up with Lena Jordan, who is a community worker in ODG, and who is also involved with Tenants First, a citywide grassroots organisation of tenants from local authority flat complexes facing redevelopment or regeneration. We talked in the community flat in one of the blocks. While looking around before our conversation, I could see the depressingly familiar site of boarded-up units dotted around the complex. Approximately 10% of the housing stock is currently unoccupied, despite a waiting list for people to be housed. There have been no new allocations since the site was earmarked for redevelopment four years ago; a de-tenanting process which has been mirrored in other cases such as St. Michael's Estate and Dolphin House in the south inner city.
Lena is a long-term tenant/resident of ODG, and we began by talking about the current social problems facing the people living there. "A few years ago people set up Block Committees to deal with anti social behaviour behaviour. These Committees are currently liaising with DCC and the residents in the regeneration project. The Committees carried out a survey among the residents, finding out what people felt and needed when it came to housing. 43% of the people surveyed said that if they were offered somewhere else, they would take it. We were surprised at the high level of people who wanted out. People were unsure about the future here. They see antisocial behaviour around the estate, and they're not sure a change in housing will address these issues. People are definitely worried. They want what's best for their homes, but they are on the mercy of the developer.
"I grew up in ODG. It was a fabulous place ot be growing up in with a very tight community. Housing estates were then built nearby about twenty years ago - Dunard, Drumalee and Montpelier. A huge amount of tenants left, they had the points on the housing list so they all took houses. There was a change in ODG after this. One or two blocks turned into what I would call transition blocks. There was nobody putting down roots in them and you couldnt build a community spirit that had previously always been there in ODG. This makes things very difficult for long term tenants. I think many long term tenants, if given the option of a house, would take it. I've been on a transfer list for 15 years and if I got the offer I would go too."
The plans for regeneration have not been finalised yet, but already there are worrying signs of DCC not involving the community in the plans for the site. The ODG Community Forum, a group which had been trying to secure greater resources such as a creche, swimming pool and community centre, found out about the regeneration plans by accident. An architect appointed by DCC showed up at a meeting, where the Forum had been expecting to work out a design for a new community centre. Instead the architect showed them plans for a complete redevelopment of the estate. At this point they realised something was very wrong, and had to quickly begin a process of greater consultation and communication with people, to let them know a redevelopment was imminent.
Lena explains: "That plan, which has since vanished, was to erect six new blocks and knock down four existing ones. Four of the new blocks were to be private apartments. ODG wasnt ready for this sort of thing at all in regards of community structures. There wasnt really any proper tenants associations, none of that. There was a group, the CDP - Community Development Project - that had come together to deal with the anti social behaviour around the area. There was just one development worker dealing with the residents who had been trying to address the problems of drinking, stolen cars, etc. The main problem we have here is that we're not highly organised. People need to be able to make an informed decision about what the right choices are for them. That would be a huge issue for me - that we can decide for ourselves as tenants of the council, living and raising childen here, that we have the option of deciding whether we can go for this redevelopement, or reject it."
John Bissett from St. Michael's Estate gave a workshop last year about power relations and the spectacle/simulacra of community involvement in regeneration projects when it comes to local authority housing estates. In many cases, because the tenants in council housing are poor, and politically detached and disenfranchised, the authorities can act with relative impunity and ease when it comes to implementing their own wishes above that of the local community. I asked Lena about this, and if people in ODG cared about what was happening.
"There is a lot of apathy here. Definitely. It impacts in that people dont put down roots or care about ODG,. It makes life very difficult for those that do want to stay. It brings the whole community down. Its a ripple effect, it goes through the smallest kid right up to the senior citizens. A lot of people dont think this redevelopment is going to happen. I dont think they will believe it until the bulldozers come in. There's been so many promises made in the past around this estate, for example with the community centre we've been fighting for for over 6 years which didnt happen. St Michael's Estate would have been one of the first places to have been marked for redevelopment, and that has been left to rot. The people that are left there, what they have to live in is appalling. Their needs are not being addressed. Promises made to them at the beginning were continuously broken. They were promised so much and then had the rug pulled from under their feet. Its a concern that we would have, that the same could happen here in ODG."
In response to the possibility of a large part of the site being given over to high density private apartments, the Block Committees came up with a community charter for ODG. At present there is an agreement between DCC and the ODG Block Committees that the current level of public housing units will be maintained. Another request of the community was that they remain city council tenants. Lena says that if the tenants get what is agreed in the charter, "we will be doing well. If they renege on what's in that charter, it will be very worrying because the idea of it was that there would be a high level of integration between the affordable and social housing units. At the moment DCC are deciding what developer is going to be awarded the tender. We don't know yet what way the property is going to be divvied up. What we are afraid of is that we will be forced into one little small corner of the land, and the private housing would occupy the majority of the rest of the area. If we're talking about regeneration, in relation to the social problems that currently exist, we need a social agenda as well as redevelopment. A partially gated community would be disastrous."
The tenants in ODG should know by October what way the land will be divided up between public and private housing. Lena says they will have to review this when it materialised and formulate a response. "When a regeneration board is set up, hopefully we will be able to learn from the mistakes and experiences of other housing estates around the city. As I said earlier we really are on the mercy of the developer. As it is, our community charter is only a piece of paper, and we'll have to try to get them to follow through on the commitments. We will be monitoring it. We really dont know how its going to work out yet."