'We wouldn't rule out using cruise ship to house homeless people' - Dublin City Council
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DUBLIN City Council’s Brendan Kenny is willing to try anything to solve the housing crisis – and hasn’t ruled out the use of a cruise ship for homeless people – but insists the council can’t fix it alone and needs more help from private developers.
Mr Kenny expects it to be another two to three years before a real difference is seen in the crisis, saying it won’t be allayed in the coming year.
Dublin City Council (DCC) has a two-pronged battle on its hands – one is short-term to ensure there’s enough emergency accommodation for those presenting as homeless, the other is getting families back into permanent homes by building and buying.
In an interview with Independent.ie, DCC's deputy chief executive Mr Kenny said the organisation is regularly bidding for developments and he has staff scouring newspapers daily for any properties that could be bought or leased.
It has even been bidding for hotels that could be turned into family hubs, and is willing to go outside Dublin to do so.
“If there were properties out there we’d buy them up, if there’s hotels available they would buy them up and put families into them,” he said.
“We’ve actually followed through on a number of hotels and we haven’t been successful.
“We have a couple in mind outside the Dublin area that could come to something early in 2019, so I’m not against that.
“So the reality is we’re willing to try anything.”
Earlier this year, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy wrote to Dublin’s local authorities, pressurising them to reach high targets of family hub spaces by the end of 2018.
The targets were almost impossible to reach, Mr Kenny said.
His boss, Owen Keegan, wrote back to Mr Murphy explaining this, while floating the cruise ship idea at the same time. This would have been for single homeless people as opposed to families.
When asked about the possibility of it at the time, the minister dismissed it out of hand.
However, if the homelessness crisis deteriorates further it is still on option that’s on the table, Mr Kenny said.
He feels that situation with single homeless people is more under control.
“That’s something we thought about and it’s something we wouldn’t rule out. We don’t think it was such a bad idea as people thought and we did go into some of the detail of it at the time,” he said.
“It was felt that we had other options for people, now that could change.
“It would be a very controversial way of doing business but it works well in other cities so we wouldn’t rule it out. But it’s not something we’re considering at the moment.”
Around the same time as the minister’s letter, DCC saw three family hub projects fall through within the space of a week.
In total, more than 300 people would have been catered for but for various reasons – the developer pulling out and the extensive work needed on the property – it didn’t happen.
“This is the point we were making to the minister, we were working our butts off to do it, but working in that kind of property environment is hugely difficult,” Mr Kenny said.
“We’re willing to try anything, I have staff trawling the city, I’ve staff looking at papers every single day to see what’s in the papers, what’s available and we’re out there ready to bid, either to buy or to lease. We simply can’t get anything.”
The council has stressed on a number of occasions in recent months that it hasn’t got much of its own land left to build on.
Some 90 hectares of it is allotted for current developments, with the remaining 30 or so in areas such as Ballymun, Darndale and Cherry Orchard – places which already have a high concentration of social housing.
In four or five years, Mr Kenny said, DCC will have no land left to build on.
He said that regardless of the crisis, building there is “irresponsible” and the wrong thing to do.
“We don’t want to re-create the problems of the past. We could go to Ballymun and build thousands more high rises, but it wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” he said.
“We’d like to see more private residential, the private sector is not really moving, we can only do so much.
“I don’t think we can solve the housing crisis in the city. We need the private sector building like they used to and they’re not.
“They’ve a lot of land in the city, they’re building student accommodation, flying up, they’re building hotels, flying up, but they’re not building residential.
“There’s probably a few reasons for that. The building of residential is not viable for them, they find it hard to borrow money to build and also these days they’re not sure they’ll get buyers because it’s very hard to get mortgages.
“It’s kind of ironic. If you have a developer building in Ballsbridge or Donnybrook or docklands at €800,000 to €1m, they’re selling, but a developer who wants to build a housing estate in Cabra for €300,000 to €350,000 each, he’d be very worried if he’d get buyers for it.”
As it looks to move more quickly with developing social housing, the council has developed a framework to speed up the procurement process, along with using emergency powers to cut some more time, it is also building volumetric units – mainly apartments – with the majority of 1,000 planned for 2019.
It hopes this will mean homes will be built in 18 months rather than the current three years.
Asked about a vote of no confidence in Mr Murphy, he said: “I think everyone knows that there’s a political game going on and no matter what he does, he can’t win, but we have to ignore those kind of things and just get on with it.
“He is the minister and has been very good to us, he’s very supportive of what we do and he puts a huge amount of pressure on us as well.”