Mixing social and private housing segregates rather than integrates communities, says Ó Broin

Planning and Development Bill wording offers ‘flexibility’ in building more social housing, says Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell

Mixing social and private housing further segregates rather than integrates communities, a Sinn Féin TD has told the Oireachtas housing committee.

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin told Thursday’s Planning and Development Bill committee hearing that the use of mixed-tenure housing was based on a “prejudiced” idea that low-income families should not be “over-concentrated”.

“There is a widely spread view in political circles and media circles that having large numbers of working class people in the same area is not good housing policy,” Mr Ó Broin told Thursday’s committee hearing. “There is no empirical evidence in Ireland or in the OECD that supports that.”

Research in other jurisdictions shows the mixed-tenure model “doesn’t produce integration, it can actually exacerbate segregation”, he said.

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Mixed tenure is when homeowners and private renters, who tend to have higher incomes, are intermingled in development zones with social renters, who tend to have lower incomes.

Mr Ó Broin suggested to the committee that mixed income in housing developments should be promoted through tenant purchase and intergenerational security of tenure.

He was speaking in support of a proposed amendment by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barret to the mammoth 700-page-plus Planning and Development Bill 2023. The bill states that, while there is a legal requirement to provide a minimum of 20 per cent of social and affordable housing in any development, a lower percentage may be required “in order to counteract undue segregation in housing between persons of different social backgrounds”.

“The substantial point here is that you shouldn’t be allowed to go below the 20 per cent social and affordable housing on the basis of a vague notion of undue segregation,” Mr Boyd Barrett told the committee. The term “undue segregation” is “often laced with prejudice” and based on the idea that you “inevitably produce problems if you have big council estates”, he said.

“If the Government is worried about undue segregation, the easy way to fix that is to raise the social welfare income threshold. This section should be deleted, there should be no option in the housing development strategy to go below 20 per cent.”

Using the example of Ballymun in north Dublin, Mr Ó Broin said restrictions on new social housing development, in areas believed to already have an over-concentration of lower-income families, was preventing intergenerational security of tenure and the growth of mixed-income families through tenant purchase schemes. “People who grew up there (in Ballymun) don’t have the chance to live there.

“The only category of people in our society who we restrict at over-concentration is lower-income households. We don’t do this with private housing.

“There’s a dogma that has gripped many people and it’s not based on fact or reality. It’s based on anecdotal impressions, and sometimes based on prejudice – the idea that low-income families shouldn’t be over-concentrated and should be mixed around and pepper-potted as if that’s more socially acceptable.”

Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Fine Gael’s Kieran O’Donnell, defended the Bill’s wording and said it offered “flexibility”. The clause is not just about housing, but housing and social development, he said.

“If I’m going into an estate I shouldn’t be able to tell whether it’s public or private. We have to allow some degree of flexibility ... for that to work, there has to be a degree of balance and a practicality.

“Ultimately we want to build a lot more social houses in a way that works,” said Mr O’Donnell. “It’s something I’ve seen on the ground over many years in Limerick. I should not be able to distinguish between social housing and private housing, that’s my core view. I understand where you’re coming from but I’m not in mind to accept the amendment.”

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