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A Blog About Human Rights
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Human Rights in Ireland >>
Affordable housing, affordable for whom?
Wednesday October 11, 2006 04:59 by jim travers
Who are they building for?
Have local authorities lost the plot and surcome to the the greed of the building industry by allowing apartments spring up all over the country. When we were told apatments or in lay mans terms FLATS were a thing of the past, why have the authorities allowed the construction of such apartents when the history of Ballymun has show us that in a social context such forms of construction will cause problems in the future. Do local authorities need to look at their proceedures in the allocation of housing to people who want a roof but say to hell with everything else?
Affordable housing, affordable for whom?
In days past when the local authorities built houses they built them with strength to last. Unfortunately that was the only thing they done right, for if they had gone the full hog they would have put in place recreational facilities, shopping complexes and all the good things that allow communities to grow and prosper. Like the Luas system, the M50 cabbageway and the oodles of good things local authorities find to make wrong once they place their grubby hands on a perfectly good proposal or development, housing and for that matter affordable housing is just another local authority game of control and authority with vacant promises given to those in need of a secure and safe roof over their heads. Now donít jump at me because I said the Luas system, because I know and you know that the Luas was a government decision and not the making of a local authority. There again local authorities placed little if any objections to the construction of the Luas despite the fact that environmental and community displacement issues were a huge concern at that time. In very many housing estates throughout this country anti-social behaviour is reaching an all time high because of bad infrastructural planning in the past and the lessons still not learned, or if learned then not applied to current development of housing construction and housing allocation.
Local authorities are renowned for placing the wrong people in the wrong places and then walking away leaving the local community struggle to bring some sort of sanity back within that community. There is always a small few of disruptive tenants who do their utmost best to bring a community to its knees. Local authorities drag their heels in coming to grips with the necessary measures needed in order to promote and protect the interests of the vast majority of people who want to live and contribute to the community they live in. Communities are literally torn apart because people in authority who work nine to five jobs, switch off and go home as if the problems of society do not exist beyond their working hours.
When Dublin Corporation build a new housing scheme in Kimmage back in the 1940S, people in Dublin thought they were going to live in the country. Well in reality they were, for houses were all the local authority built and houses and houses and more houses but very little else. Houses were built with not even a decent road to allow access for tenants to their new homes, as the local authority filled their concrete boxes with families who became prisoners in the houses that occupied a housing construction building site. And the same saga went on year after year as politicians used the housing allocation list to bolster their own political interests on the backs of people struggling to find accommodation. Coolock, Darndale, Ballymun, Finglas and Cabra, north and south, city and county local authorities played their part in promoting and developing the housing crisis we see today. Local authorities have really got out of the business of building houses for people. They rely on the private sector to build houses on lands purchased from local authorities which are then developed with a promise by the builder to provide twenty percent of the houses constructed for affordable housing. Now that sounds nice and simple, the council provides the land and in return it gets houses to allocate to those who are on their list or wish to purchase a house under the affordable housing scheme. Like everything else with a local authority, everything involves money and everything has a catch. The catch is, under the affordable housing scheme, by the time you make your final payment you may not be able to walk on your own two feet to the local authority in order to collect the deeds of the house and thatís if you are still alive. On the other hand the guy next door to you may be having his tenancy in a privately rented house paid for by the local health board to a landlord or housing speculator, as the guy on the other side struggles to pay his mortgage to the bank as quickly as possible so that he can sell up and get out.
Public private partnership, itís the new buzz words. Everything good comes out of it and everything is in the interests of us all, or so we are led to believe. So why have we a serious housing problem and why is there more people now on local authority housing waiting lists when housing construction is at an all time high. The answer is the construction industry is working and operating in a false economy of building for speculation rather than building for need. The vast majority of apartments built in and around this city and in neighbouring counties are built for the purpose of accommodating people who have no immediate desire to start a family. The vast majority of apartments within Dublin city are apartments that have been purchased by speculators for the sole purpose of securing financial gain from their investments. This situation has a huge impact on the people living within apartment communities, as people come and go without ever knowing, meeting, conversing or socialising with others within the own living vicinity. One year, two year leases as everybody come and go, as the only things that age are the buildings that house the ever changing occupants.
Local authorities have learned absolutely nothing over the years and sometimes I wonder do they really care. Do they have a housing department because its nice to say they have one or do they have a housing department because they feel obliged to provide accommodation for people, because they are a local authority and only because of that. Have they learned anything from the Ballymun housing disaster or have they turned a blind eye to the power of the construction industry as it builds all around us precisely what our local authorities swore would never happen again, flatland complexes given fancy names and redefined as apartments. Just look at Tallaght, it could possibly in time become either a shanty town or an area so deprived that it will resemble all the bad things that encouraged local communities to make a stand and force a reluctant local authority to consider, pull down the Ballymun housing complex. It will take just one bad turn in the economy for the people of Tallaght to be left with an area that is void of an effective level of commerce that stimulates or maintains the current levels of visible prosperity that holds Tallaght one step back from social disaster.
So where do the problems lie in our current housing policy and why is the idea of affordable housing more of a pipe dream rather than a social reality? The problem lies with market forces and the advantages of Section 23 and the tax breaks associated with anybody investing in a property in order to rent it out. Builders build houses and apartments, speculators clammer to purchase those properties thereby raising the initial asking price for properties while the vast majority of people are left to rent properties because they cannot afford to get on the housing ladder. Local authorities and health boards add to this surge in property prices by stepping in and providing rent allowences to people in order for them to meet the monthly rental payments to their landlords. The vast majority of properties being constructed around the country today are for private investment purposes where people are either struggling to pay landlords in order to keep a roof over their heads or health boards and local authorities are subsidising payments of rents that encourage private speculators to reinvest their money in schemes that secure state or local authority financial backing.
Why would anybody want to secure a of 400,000 Euro mortgage from a bank for an apartment that will see a social welfare recipient living next door in an apartment that is financed by a local authority or even a health board. Now before you go on your high horse and start screaming at me, I know there are good, decent and respectable people living and being supported by health boards or local authorities and I also know that the same people deserve a good standard of living and that includes their living accommodation no matter where it is. What I cannot stand and I know is a huge problem, is with the mixture of owner occupiers and by that I mean ordinary people who are struggling to pay a mortgage and the scum that are provided paid for accommodation and who turn their place of residence into a ghetto.
The most major problem we have here is with the inability of local authorities to properly manage the properties they allocate to their tenants. I justify this thinking by asking, what is the difference between a corporation house and a private house? The answer is there is no difference in the houses, if anything the corporation house is probably a better built house. The difference is in who reside in the houses and their attitude to the environment in which they live and become part of. For example, take a local authority housing estate in lets say Neilstown. Mary and John have a beautiful house, magnificent inside, a landscaped garden outside with surrounding walls and decorative gates. Outside the gates it is like another world as bags and other waste clutter the pedestrian pathway as the grass verge lies potholed and marked with tyre marks from cars driving off the road and onto the green patch outside their door. Mary and John wonít sweep outside their gates because their attitude is ďitís the councils jobĒ so Mary and John live in a surrounding environment that devalues the pride they take within their own walls because they feel their responsibilities do not go beyond their garden gates. When Mary and John decide to purchase and then sell their corporation house for the advantage of living in a private estate, Mary and John will be seen doing what they done in the past, cleaning and maintaining their property, only this time both Mary and John will be sweeping the road and footpath and keeping the grass verge outside their home neat and trimmed. Why, because Mary and John have a vested interest in their property and that vested interest includes the visual landscape of the environment around them. And that is the difference between local authority and private, a responsibility of tenure that gives every individual a reason for maintaining a system of mutual interest.
Now you might say nonsense, you might even say bull**** but when people have to pay for something or are conditioned to accepting rules and regulations, they conform to those rules and regulations as second nature or face the imminent prospect of eviction or in the case of a mortgage holder, repossession. People hate having to abide by rules and regulation but yearn for the same rules and regulations when the activities of others around them interfere with their peace in life.
And this is what currently bedevilling the urgent need to house people on local authority housing lists in residential private estates and the problems facing people wishing to purchase properties in order to live in combined with their concerns about the potential prospects of both health boards and local authorities placing everybody and anybody they so wish in accommodation that the same local authority walk away from and leave others to live in an environment where their only wish is to sell up and get out.
So one can see why builders are reluctant to set aside twenty percent of their housing construction as affordable housing or local authority housing attached to their private developments, for in reality, potential purchasers like you and I, will find a reluctance in signing our names to a mortgage agreement for the purchase of a home we may find we need to sell shortly after we moved in. Itís not mine, I donít care, F the owner he or she can afford it or the health board is paying for it, all reoccurring responses that shove the responsibility out of the hands of those who sought urgent housing accommodation but are not prepared to respect the value of that accommodation or the people around them. All responses that cause tension and social division basically because local authorities do not act quickly enough when any of their tenants are reported for anti-social activities and this responsibility extends to local authority housing where decent and law abiding people are subjected to anti-social behaviour problems as local authorities and the Gardai struggle and at the best of times fail to protect those within our communities who want to abide by the law but are forced outside the law by the inability of all authority to answer a call for help.
So do we build another Ballymun and house all the social misfits and layabouts who care little about themselves never mind others, or do we look to properly manage a better system of social integration by helping to erase any indication as to who is paying and who is being supported. In modern Ireland the only barrier that is stopping people from relocating to another area is the cost of purchasing a property in that area and that in itself will determine from what social background those people come from. There are people on our waiting lists who long for a time when they can move up the social ladder in order to better themselves and contribute to the community around them. There are other decent people who consistently seek a transfer to another location because of anti-social activities by the few and are left to live as prisoners within their own homes because both local authorities and the Gardai cannot and will not resolve a problem that is eating away at a community by a selected few. It is time local authorities called a halt to the spiralling apartment complex system of construction. It is time local authorities started a local authority housing construction plan that is counted in many thousands of units rather than few here and the few there idea of constructing housing for need. The more local authorities become involved in housing construction the more house prices will fall as construction starts to surpass demand. Local authorities cannot take the old style belief of house them and forget them attitude thereby allowing their estates to fall into decay, void of any respect and ghettoised by the lack of effective control and regulation.
It is time we took a real look at the reasons for the ever increasing division between those who want a roof over their heads in order to live and to progress in life and those who just want a roof over their heads. Before we carve up our country into places to be or places we possibly might be or would not consider, we must resolve the issues that cause division and separate people into specific categories, who through their own actions and deeds make them alien to the environment they have been placed into. Itís not fair to them and it is not fair to those who struggle to raise themselves out of a lifestyle and environment that local authorities and health boards plunge those who have no other nor want another lifestyle or environment that is for their own betterment and all those around them.