Local authority housing plays a vital role in Ireland housing system. Without it many people would find themselves on the streets without a roof over their heads. However it is not a solution to all problems we are experiencing in this country today. In fact while local authority housing solves many problems it can also be the cause of some problems too. In this paper I will look at and evaluate the strengths and the weaknesses of local authority housing in Ireland today.
I will also look at prime examples of these strengths and weaknesses, using a number of local authority housing estates throughout the country.
Firstly I feel it is imperative to briefly describe the housing system Ireland as a whole, in order to gain a clearer perspective on the status of local authority housing in the country.
In Ireland we have a dual housing system. This means we have a mix of both private and social housing and public tenures.
State owned and social housing accounts for 19% of the housing market. The government enforced policies to ensure that a percentage of newly constructed houses were to be kept and dedicated to the local authority housing scheme. Local authority housing caters for poor and low income households, who may otherwise not be able to afford housing. It is accessed by means testing and also by special needs qualification. The rent for these houses are determined by the income of the household occupying them. The landlords are generally the local authorities. Some examples of well known local authority housing estates are: Moyross estate in Limerick City, Fatima Mansions in Dublin and Knocknaheeny in Cork.
Unfortunately over the years these local authority housing estates have built up a bad reputation, negative images and negative stigmas. A few different factors play a role in this. I will be looking into these factors in more detail, as I speak later, about the weaknesses of local authority housing. An example of this would be the former Ballymun high rise flats which were renowned for appearing on the news linked with stories of crime and violence. In order to combat this problem and create less of a bad image for these ‘problem estates’, the government set out a ten year plan to regenerate 7 local authority housing estates throughout Ireland. They aimed to do this by means of policy changes and state funding. These estates are : “Fatima Mansions and Finglas South in Dublin City, Fettercairn, Tallaght, in South County Dublin; Deanrock estate in Togher, Cork City; Moyross in Limerick City, Muirhevnamor in Dundalk and Cranmore in Sligo town.” (Norris, M and O’Connell, C. 2010)
Strengths of local authority housing:
Local authority housing provides affordable homes for those who would not otherwise be able to afford housing and this is a much needed and great service provided by our local authorities here in Ireland. Local authority housing has a number of benefits to both its tenants and to the community as a whole. It has many strengths.
Good quality houses: As stated above the government as part of the local authority housing scheme set out a number of newly built houses during the construction boom, and dedicated them to the local authority housing scheme. This was a very clever tactic by the government as it meant that these local authority houses were newly built good quality housing, moving away from the previous opinion that local authority houses were often undesirable and of poor quality. The most typical form of these houses were “cottage type or terrace housing in low density estates” (Fahey 1999. Pg. 236)
Cheaper, affordable rent: Because local authority housing is accessed via means testing and rent payment is determined by household income it means that lower income households can afford to live more comfortably and ensures that they have a roof over their heads. Without this scheme homelessness rates would undoubtedly be a lot higher in Ireland.
More owner occupation: A lot of people renting local authority housing as a long term arrangement often eventually come to own their houses. This instills a level of independence which they could never have achieved otherwise.
Happier tenants: For the most part, people in local authority housing have reported that they are “happy with their overall housing experience” (Fahey 1999. Pg. 236)
Community Development Programmes: Often in areas of local authority housing local authorities dedicate themselves to the provision of facilities and programmes to improve living conditions, social condition, education and employment conditions for those living there. Community employment schemes are just one example of this. This is a great benefit to both the residents and the community as a whole as it leads to a higher standard of living for the individuals and also helps reduce rates of unemployment in the area, which in turn leads to a reduction in other social problems in the area such as crime. (Fahey, T., Norris, M., McCafferty, D. & Humphreys, E. 2011 Pg. 24)
Preventative Interventions: Local authority housing can also act as a means of protection and prevention for many people. Local services provided within these local authority estates provide “support for families and individuals who would otherwise have negative outcomes”(Fahey, T., Norris, M., McCafferty, D. & Humphreys, E. 2011 Pg. 24) Previously at risk people have more chance of being safe from abuse and crime etc. in these local authority housing estates.
An example of the strengths within a local housing estate:
Dean Rock estate, situated in Togher in Cork city, is a prime example of the many strengths of local housing estates in Ireland. This estate is in high demand with a very low turnover, long waiting lists to get in and very settled conditions. Dean Rock is now home to a voluntary, community based family support centre and also to social workers too. The estate has flourished over the years and is now a highly popular local authority housing estate with low levels of crime, delinquency, unemployment and enjoys a high status in terms of its visual appearance, absence of litter and graffiti and upholds high levels of planting and public green areas. It has become a very desirable place to live with good quality neighbors, ridding it of any stigmas which had previously applied to local authority housing estates. (Fahey, T. 1999. Pg. 238-239)
Weaknesses of local authority housing estates:
The fundamental aim of local authority housing that is, to help those who cannot otherwise afford housing, means that local authority housing should be a very positive and problem free area. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
Because these estates are linked with poor and low income families it often means there are high levels of unemployment, low levels of education and thus resulting in high levels of delinquency and crime. (Fahey, T. 1999. Pg. 238) These factors all cause great social problems within these estates.
Also high levels of diversity within the estates lead to a hierarchy within them. Higher and lower status areas emerge within the estates, causing a lack of social cohesion. “Appearances of houses, presence/ absence of litter and graffiti, and vandalism”(Fahey, T. 1999. Pg. 239) can often result in conflict between neighbors and thus lead to poor quality neighborhoods.
Failure of the government to integrate with local authorities to improve provide vital amenities and service to the local authority housing estates also creates a huge problem in these estates. It creates a great level of social exclusion between those living in these estates and those that don’t. (Fahey, T., Norris, M., McCafferty, D. & Humphreys, E. 2011 Pg. 31)
An example of the weaknesses within a local housing estate:
Fatima Mansions is a local authority housing estate in Dublin. Unlike Dean Rock estate in Cork, Fatima Mansions has been described as “troubled and difficult to let”(Fahey, T. 1999. Pg. 238) Over 15% of the premises are vacant and some are derelict. There is no waiting list to get in to this estate. There is a severe lack of social cohesion and this causes other social problems. Heroin usage is high in the area and this has knock on effects to the levels of crime and violence in the area two. It is in stark contrast to Dean Rock estate and highlights the diversity between local authority estates.
While it is evident, from the information in this paper, that local authority housing has huge and undeniable benefits to the lower income population of society I think that many improvements can still be made to these schemes. I feel the government needs to take more responsibility perhaps in funding local authorities and enabling them to better facilities and services available to these estates. This would bring about a major difference in the areas for the better and hopefully result in all the local authority estates being as successful as Dean Rock estate in Cork.
Cowan, D. and McDermont, M. (2006) Regulating Social Housing: Governing Decline,
Fahey, T. (1999) (ed.) Social Housing in Ireland: A study of success, failures and lessons learned. Oak Tree Press, Dublin.
Fahey, T., Norris, M., McCafferty, D. & Humphreys, E. (2011) Combating Social Disadvantage in Social Housing Estates: The policy implications of a ten-year follow-up study. Combat Poverty Agency.
National Economic and Social Forum (1999), Local Development Issues, Dublin: National Economic and Social Forum.
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Norris, M and O’Connell, C (2010) ‘Social Housing Management, Governance and Delivery in Ireland: Ten Years of Reform on Seven Estates’.
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