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Tenants from local authority flat complexes across Dublin meet for launch of Tenants First booklet
Report from last night's well-attended meeting.
Around 75 community and housing activists from across the city gathered in the Macro Community Resource Centre on North King St last night, for the launching of a new Tenants First booklet, entitled "The Real Guide to Regeneration for Communities: Making The Right Decision About Urban Regeneration". The booklet has been in production for several months, and five thousand copies have been printed up for distribution around local authority flat complexes and housing estates right across Dublin City.
The booklet was produced not as a leaflet to be shoved through letterboxes, but rather as a tool that local communities can use in facilitating workshops and discussions when faced with regeneration (which based on the contributions from the floor last night, seems to be widespread and increasing). "12 steps to making the right decision about regeneration" are mapped out, and take tenants from the initial stages of finding out information and understanding what is happening, to organising your own agenda, getting resources and fighting for what you want.
Three speakers, Joe Donohue from Fatima Groups United, John Bissett from St Michael's Estate, and Lena Jordan from O'Devaney Gardens gave a brief outline of their experiences to date of the regeneration process. They talked of how each of their communities had experienced difficulties with Dublin City Council, at all stages of the planning and organisation. Also prevalent was the continuing presence of PPPs (Public Private Partnerships) in redevelopments. The results of PPPs were varied, but inevitably lead to the reduction in the number or physical space afforded to social housing, and an increase in housing densities coupled with a loss of open space areas.
At the meeting last night, the general consensus was that each individual regeneration plan differed in many respects. Local autonomy, organising, and decision making was encouraged, but the facilitators and various speakers wanted people leaving to remember that the process was part of a much wider struggle occuring in many local authority estates, and it was important to make connections with other people involved, in order to learn from their successes and mistakes. The booklet was produced with the aim of ensuring that "local authority tenants are empowered to make a clear and rational decision about the future of their own areas. That means to begin with making a decision whether to say yes or no to the regeneration - degeneration agenda.
"Regeneration means CHANGE, but the pluses and minuses of the agenda for change need to be carefully thought out before any community signs up for the medicine. It can mean some positive changes for communities, but it can also mean a lot of conflict, stress, disruption and fear, and there will be winners as well as losers, gains and losses. Indeed, so much is lost in the whole process (depopulation, demolition, redevelopment) that it might be smarter to think of it in terms of degeneration and regeneration - taking local places apart (over many years) and putting them back together in a radically different way.
"Increasingly, all of this wont be carried out by the local authority in the traditional way; instead the local authority will enter into a deal with a private developer, who will become the key driver of the project. This is called a PPP, an approach encouraged by government since 2001. The public housing and community facilties will be funded mainly through the sale of private apartments. There have been fierce struggles over all of these issues and over what regeneration should be about. Another kind of regeneration - centred on social and community needs - is possible. But that will depend on how well you as a community can organise and act to influence the future of your estate."
The booklet then goes into further detail about making the decision locally; gathering information; debating, evaluating, and making a democratic decision; raising support from the wider local area; setting your own agenda and having an independent space outside the authority structures; real and active participation; ways of doing the work and setting up a regeneration board; and moving forward. It is obvious that a lot of work and experience have gone into the production of the booklet, and it will prove a valuable resource in the coming months and years. In the first six months of next year, Tenants First will be facilitating workshops all across the city in communities undergoing regeneration and redevelopment. This booklet will be distributed at each of them.
Tenants First is an independent, non-party political forum of tenants and community workers who have come together to share information and experiences to support each other on issues of common concern. The central aim is to provide a strong collective voice for local tenants on issues related to their living and dwelling conditions. The group provides support, advice, and a space for tenants and community voluntary organisations to come together and share mutual experiences, and to develop collective responses/actions. The steering group has representatives from Cork St, Davitt House, Dolphin House, Fatima Groups United, ICON, the Markets Area, O'Devaney Gardens, and St. Michael's Estate. A large number of other complexes have also affiliated to Tenants First. If you would like copies of the booklet, contact the St. Michael's Estate Family Resource Centre, Inchicore, Dublin 8.