Tackling Ireland’s housing challenges

John O’Connor, Chief Executive at the Housing Agency, outlines three major challenges impacting social housing providers in Ireland and how these can be overcome.

There are three major challenges impacting on social housing demand in Ireland. First, there is a shortage of availability of private rental accommodation coupled with high rental costs in many areas. Second, there remains a significant number of households in long-term mortgage arrears. Third, there is a continued high level of homeless presentations. In particular, the number of homeless families presenting to local authorities has increased greatly in the past six years. How are these challenges being addressed?

Social housing boost

The provision and management of social housing in Ireland is undertaken by local authorities and approved housing bodies (AHBs, also known as housing associations). Policy, funding and oversight of social housing delivery is delivered by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Government agencies such as the Housing Agency, Housing Finance Agency and the Residential Tenancies Board are playing an increasingly more prominent role in supporting delivery, providing services and regulation of the sector.

‘Rebuilding Ireland: an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’ was launched by the government in July 2016. Among other actions, this five-year plan sets out targets for the delivery of 138,000 social homes by various means. See Table 1.

Table 1: Rebuilding Ireland Targets 
Category Overall Target 2016-2021
Build 33,617
Acquisition 6,830
Lease 10,036
Subtotal 50,483
Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) 3,800
Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) 83,760
 Subtotal 87,560
 Overall Total 138,043

These include construction and acquisition, combined with an element of private sector leasing and the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) – a tenancy arrangement with private landlords. Significant progress is being made on delivering on these targets. However, there are several challenges faced by local authorities and AHBs. First, there is a shortage of building capacity and the skills needed to deliver after several preceding years of low housing delivery due to economic circumstances. Second, due to concerns about over-concentration of social housing, developments are built on a smaller scale than previously.

Typically, developments comprise 100 homes or fewer, which is a significant barrier to delivering on the necessary scale. On a separate matter, one major change to social housing support provision was the introduction of the Housing Assistant Payment (HAP) in 2014.

HAP provides support for households with a long-term housing need, to rent in the private sector. This is replacing Rent Supplement (similar to UK Housing Benefit), which will only remain in place for households with a short-term need. This is an area that AHBs should consider; by 2021 there will be nearly twice as many households in receipt of HAP than are housed in AHB-owned homes.

New approaches

Cost rental housing is when a housing provider builds a property and charges rent sufficient to cover its costs and nothing more. It has been in place for many years in mainland Europe but is new to Ireland. A major advantage of cost rental is that it can help households to avoid exposure to rising market rents. In addition, a steady and enduring increase in the supply of affordable and cost rental housing can help ease demand for social housing.

‘Rebuilding Ireland’ sets an objective to develop cost rental housing in Ireland. Again, both AHBs and local authorities should consider the provision of cost rental housing on a large scale to meet the needs of households on moderate incomes and reduce the demand for social housing.

In conclusion, to address the capacity and skills gap, local authorities could create delivery teams of a sufficient size and with the necessary skills to deliver on the scale now required. AHBs could pool skilled staff or develop joint procurement or joint delivery approaches. A primary goal of Ireland’s National Planning Framework is to achieve compact growth and sufficient housing density to support communities.

We must take a serious look at how to achieve sustainable development and give much greater attention to the climate change agenda. Energy conservation and the efficiency of individual homes is only one part of the solution. The location of homes, the correct mix of home sizes, greater housing and population densities and sustainable communities have a huge role to play in tackling climate change.

 

To discuss this article, contact David Williams: david.williams@campbelltickell.com

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

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