How Oaklee Housing is developing in and around Dublin

Sharon Cosgrove, CEO at Oaklee Housing discusses how they are responding to increased housing demand through a variety of initiatives.

The number of homeless people in Ireland now exceeds 10,000 and the national social housing waiting list is more than 70,000. The challenges in satisfying this demand, not just for Oaklee Housing but for all Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) in Ireland, has never been greater. How are we responding?

In Dublin there is a marked lack of available greenfield sites. Due to private Build-To-Rent operators entering the market, competition for sites is stiff. This inflates the cost of land and so affects the viability of sites for social housing. While there is low availability of privately owned sites, there is significant state-owned land being targeted by the Land Development Agency and local authorities. We are working with local authorities in Dublin City and across the country to acquire these sites to develop into high-quality social housing schemes.

We also brief local agents to identify privately owned, off-market sites across Dublin with the potential for future development. The purchasing of completed units from developers and acquiring properties as part of the Part V planning agreements has also been successful in delivering substantial numbers of new homes.

Ghost estates

But building homes from the ground up isn’t the only way that Oaklee addresses the challenge of social housing provision. From procuring distressed portfolios of vacant units to purchasing ‘ghost’ and unfinished estates across the country, we acquire, refurbish and complete these properties that will become homes to local authority nominees on housing waiting lists.

These abandoned units and estates, while helping to alleviate the housing crisis, come with their own suite of challenges. None is more significant than the potential expense of completing someone else’s work. Unknown components such as quality of design, workmanship and damage as a result of over-exposure to the elements are risks that can make projects such as these extremely costly and, as such, less commercially viable than the construction of homes from scratch.

Project Acorn

Delivering these great projects costs money. Initially Oaklee and other AHBs relied on funding and preferential rates provided by the Housing Finance Agency to deliver projects. But as confidence in the sector has grown, national and international banks are now willing to offer favourable rates over longer periods. This has changed the way projects can be delivered.

Project Acorn is an excellent demonstration of the changing face of financing for social housing projects. It is a competitive initiative for the provision of fixed-rate, long-term finance that Oaklee launched in 2018. Through this mechanism we have funded 128 units to date, comprising a mix of individual homes as well as scheme developments. Over the next 12 months we expect the project will deliver a further 120 units.

Ageing population

Another less-discussed challenge facing communities across Ireland is the lack of appropriate housing for our ageing population. The need for smaller, low-maintenance homes is growing to accommodate the downsizers and the elderly. In the absence of land availability, higher densities in the form of apartment blocks are being considered. Yet as apartments are deemed more expensive to build, affordability becomes an obstacle.

Ultimately, once homes have been built, bought or refurbished, the challenge truly begins in creating a community. Dealing with a dispersed portfolio of properties, anti-social behaviour, cultural integration, the fear of the unknown and nimbyism make it all the more difficult to achieve. But through innovative thinking, proactive management, engagement with established communities, the provision of a quality maintenance programme and collaborative inter-agency working, our teams strive to deliver a best-in-class, customer focused housing and support service.

 

To discuss this article, contact Kathleen McKillion: kathleen.mckillion@campbelltickell.com

This article is also featured in the latest CT Brief – Ireland Edition

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