Rebuilding Ireland: three years on

David D’Arcy, Associate Consultant at Campbell Tickell, discusses how the housing sector is delivering on Rebuilding Ireland’s action plan. 

Rebuilding Ireland, the government’s action plan to deliver 50,000 new social homes, is now three years in operation. It is envisaged that Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) deliver at least 20,000 of this total, alongside new local authority development. This is a significant figure for AHBs, given that the total number of homes in management across the sector is currently around 36,000. Ireland’s 31 local authorities manage approximately 145,000 social housing tenancies.

So, how is the sector delivering?

Increased development

Following on from producing 2,300 new homes in 2017, AHBs brought an additional 3,219 new properties into management in 2018, and these are set to increase further in 2019. Most of this new AHB provision is being delivered by a core group of the country’s largest AHBs through a mix of acquisition and construction projects. Earlier this year Ireland’s six largest AHBs formally launched The Housing Alliance, to highlight and promote their activities as social housing providers of scale (see box, below).

Collectively, Alliance members own and manage over 20,000 social homes nationwide, representing two-thirds of the total AHB housing stock. There are at least 20 other AHBs which are also upskilling and beginning to increase their development activities, and their progress is to be welcomed.

Growing pains

This period of intense growth for the sector also brings with it many challenges. Managing debt profiles and acquiring treasury management expertise, together with embedding enhanced asset management strategies are areas that AHBs have had to deal with efficiently and relatively quickly.

Under the close supervision of the Housing Regulator, AHBs will need to ensure the other core areas of their businesses are maintained to existing high standards, namely housing management and property services. Among smaller organisations an option could be closer working relationships to realise economies of scale, particularly regarding governance.

Older persons’ housing

This year, the government launched a policy brief, Housing Options for our Ageing Population. Changing demographics and the housing needs of an ageing populace will require solutions for older residents to either remain in their homes or move to more suitable accommodation.

Ireland does not have sufficient accommodation for older people prevalent in the UK, but AHBs and local authorities have produced a small number of innovative projects. One example is Clúid, which has been a significant developer of older persons’ housing, rebranding its Older Persons’ Team this year as ‘Clann’ – to recognise the strategic importance of this area to the organisation. That momentum now needs to be built upon.

Funding approvals

I have been working outside the sector in recent months, sitting between AHBs and a range of developers. It is still frustrating that the funding approvals process for the sector remains based on a scheme-by-scheme basis, regardless of the size of the proposed project. There should be consideration now for the largest AHBs to move to a programme-based funding model rather than individual scheme-specific allocations. This would allow AHBs to spend time business-planning too – an essential requirement for those with large, diverse development programmes.

Ireland’s first-ever Public Private Partnerships (PPP) contract to deliver new social housing units was recently awarded to the Comhar consortium. This group includes Oaklee Housing, which will provide tenancy management services for the partnership. The contract will produce 534 new homes across six locations. A second contract is now at the preferred tender stage, to the Torc partnership, where Túath Housing will manage the tenancies of 465 new homes. This is evidence of the sector’s ability, and confidence from the state, to continue to be at the forefront of future larger-scale social housing delivery.

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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