In May 2017 myself and other Éirígí activists turned the wall of the Central Mental Hospital into a temporary cinema screen. Our message was simple - use the publicly-owned 27 acres behind the wall for community facilities and housing that would be kept permanently affordable for people from the local community.
We were spurred into action as a result of media reports that private developers were being invited by government to put forward proposals in relation to the CMH lands. A previous government proposal would also have seen the lands sold to the private sector.
Our action that night kick-started a public debate about the future use of the CMH site. I followed it up with written questions to the Office of Public Works and the Health Service Executive in relation to the CMH site. Through social media and newsletters I kept the local community updated on new information as it became available.
In the eighteen months that followed I worked with local residents, Dundrum Housing Action and the Dundrum Housing Cooperative to organise public meetings, protests, information stalls and other events to prevent the lands being sold off to a private developer.
In September 2018, all our hard work paid off when government announced that 1,500 homes would be built on the Central Mental Hospital lands by the new state-controlled Land Development Agency. The community had won first phase of the campaign and prevented a direct sale of the land to a private developer. The second phase of the campaign, however, was just about to begin.
When the detail of the government plan was revealed it became clear that it was actually a plan to privatise the CMH land by the back door. The current government plan is for 1,500 homes on the CMH site. 90% of these homes are to be sold to the private sector, most likely including some to landlords.
Just 10%, or 150 homes, are reserved for low income families on the social housing waiting list. Unbelievably this is the exact same percentage as applies for fully private developments.
The idea that just 150 homes would be kept permanently affordable on 27 acres of publicly-owned land would be outrageous at any time, but especially so when there are 4,500 people are on the DLR social housing list and many thousands more are trapped in the private rental sector or living in their parents or other relatives homes.
A development of 1,500 homes would require all the available land to be covered in apartment blocks averaging six stories high, with virtually no land reserved for green spaces or larger community facilities. I believe that this is simply too high a density of housing for a piece of land that can only be accessed from one already busy road. Part of the reason the government are proposing such a high density is to make it more profitable for the private developer that they intend to partner with.
From the outset I have proposed that the land should be used for a development of somewhere in the region of 1,000 permanently affordable homes plus community facilities to serve both the residents of the new housing and pre-existing housing in the surrounding area.
I believe that all of the future housing on the CMH site should remain in permanent public ownership, to create an island of affordability in a sea of extortionate private rental and purchase markets. This would go some way to counter the imbalance of the existing Dundrum housing stock which is 95% owned by private corporations, traditional private landlords and owner-occupiers.
Just 5% of the existing housing stock in the greater Dundrum area is publicly owned, less than half the state-wide average.
The CMH site should be used as one of the flagship developments for an entirely new system of housing called Universal Public Housing, or ‘UP Housing’ for short. UP Housing is broadly based on the hugely successful Vienna model of housing.
The UP housing would be a mixture of types including traditional housing, town houses, apartments etc.
A significant percentage of the housing - in the region of one third - should be purpose built for older people from the local area who, many of whom want to downsize from traditional three and four bedroom housing. This would have the dual benefit of providing both our older citizens and our growing families with housing that is best suited to their needs.
The housing for older folk should be fully integrated into the wider community, using the McAuley Place in Naas Co Kildare as a template for how this can be done.
Unlike social housing, UP Housing would be open to ALL incomes, allowing local families to rent at an affordable rate with full security of tenure. Creating mixed income, multi-generational communities within a strict management structure will address the fear that some people have of a ‘ghetto’ developing. If this model of housing can work in Vienna, it can also work in Dundrum.
Reducing the density of the housing on the CMH site from the government-proposed 1,500 to around 1,000 will free up land for new community facilities. Chief among these should be a modern, purpose built community and sports centre to serve the greater Dundrum area in general and lower Dundrum in particular.
In my submission to the Dundrum Local Area Plan I proposed that a section of the CMH site might be reserved for a possible future school. I made this proposal in the context of an expected surge in demand for school places from all of the housing that is proposed for the Dundrum area.
Whether I am elected to DLR or not, I will continue to work with the local community to ensure that the Central Mental Hospital site is used for the public good and not to generate profits for developers or landlords.
But electing me to the council will mean that someone who has a deep understanding and passion for housing will be able to speak up on behalf of those who have been left behind by the current housing system.
I will speak for low and middle income households in this generation, our children and our grandchildren who have the right to live in their own communities, and I’ll put forward housing models that will allow them to do just that.