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Why can’t we do social housing?

dolphinhouse-752x501Why can’t we do social housing?

Anyone venturing down Watling Street will notice that the old corporation flats near the top of the hill are now dwarfed by a massive new building complex. Around the corner at Bonham Street, work is almost completed on Binary Hub, a €40 million development which will provide accommodation for 471 students and is due to open for business in September.

Binary Hub is one of two student facilities under construction. The other is a €60 million development at Dorset Street which will be completed in 2017.

What’s remarkable about the Bonham Street location is that The Student Housing Company, who are responsible for the whole project, only began construction in may 2014. And now, just overtwo years later, the first students will be living there in a matter of weeks.

Compare this with the regeneration of Dolphin House. it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to define this story as a saga. Originally built in 1957, the Dolphin House flats complex was the largest of its kind in the Dublin City area. Over the years, the complex suffered from the scourge of drug abuse and social decay. Dolphin House gradually fell into a state of dilapidation. The green light was finally given for redevelopment during the Celtic Tiger era but was soon cancelled after the economic crash of 2008.

For the next few years, residents had to live in conditions so bad, almost half complained of illness due to damp conditions and the presence of raw sewage. Dolphin House, along with a number of other complexes and housing estates took a complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights which ruled that their complaints were admissible.

And finally, in September, work will begin on housing regeneration project costing €25 million for the first phase where 100 units will be refurbished; 37 will be new apartments and 63 are to be fully refurbished units. In total, 400 dwellings will be constructed or refurbished over four phases. The entire project will take eight years to complete.

Of course, the project is most welcome. The residents will be relieved that work is about to commence, particularly after all they’ve suffered over the years.

The question is: why did it have to take so long? Why was the Dolphin House Regeneration Project put on hold when the incumbent governments wasted countless millions of euros on white elephants like Thornton Hall, Metro North and Eircode? And why is the project going to take eight years to complete?

The Student Housing Company completed Binary Hub in just over two years. They identified a gap in the market and catered for it. Maybe these guys should be tasked with the construction of social housing in Dublin. They’d do better the the current crowd.

It seems like another exercise in Irish government optics; the grinning figure of Simon Coveney in Dolphin House. Behind him, a boarded-up block of flats, where two generations of Dubliners lived in increasingly sub-standard conditions. If the Irish establishment actually cared about social housing, Dolphin House and so many other flats and estates like it would have never been allowed to fall into such a state of disrepair in the first place.

Even as Simon and his crew ambled around Dolphin House with the press gang shuffling behind, a local mused, “We’ll believe it when we see bulldozers”.

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