Housing must be a priority for newly elected

As councillors take up their seats in local authorities across the country, Chair of the Housing Alliance DECLAN DUNNE says social and affordable housing needs to be a priority for them in the years ahead
Housing must be a priority for newly elected
Members of the Housing Alliance (L to R) John Hannibal Circle Housing Alison O'Gorman Tuath housing Fiona Cormican Cluaid Sharon Cosgrave Oakley Housing Declan Dunne Respond Catherine O'Brien Cooperative Housing Ireland during the launch of its new campaign ‘More Social and Affordable Homes’ at Buswell’s Hotel, Dublin. Pictures: Gareth Chaney Collins

IN recent days, 949 people have been elected to serve on county and city councils nationwide. This includes 86 public representatives on Cork county and City councils.

Some of these representatives have decades of experience. Others will be entering council chambers for the very first time. For all, the provision of more social and affordable housing must be a priority for the coming years.

Why the Housing Alliance has formed

The current shortage of social and affordable housing in Ireland is one of the most acute problems facing our society. Many individuals and families are struggling to access quality social and affordable housing. There also are large numbers of people squeezed out of the social and affordable rental markets.

The social housing needs of many are currently being provided, with significant State support, by private landlords. This is a short-term solution that does not represent long-term value for the State.

Furthermore, it fails to guarantee housing stability and security for tenants beyond the discretion of landlords.

Those wishing to buy a home, meanwhile, are caught in a bind: paying high rents, unable to save for a deposit, and witnessing record increases in house prices to unaffordable levels.

In short, we have some way to go to provide secure, affordable, mixed-tenure homes for the people and families who need them.

Against this backdrop, the Housing Alliance was formed. The Alliance is a collaboration of six of Ireland’s largest Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), not-for-profit organisations that have a social purpose to provide for people’s housing needs by working in cooperation with the Government, local authorities and relevant agencies. The Alliance focuses on promoting the delivery of social and affordable housing by larger AHBs, addressing barriers and challenges to delivery, and promoting strong professional approaches to housing management.

Our members are Clúid Housing, Circle Voluntary Housing, Co-operative Housing Ireland, Oaklee Housing, Respond, and Tuath Housing. Collectively, we are responsible for over 30,000 social homes nationwide, representing two-thirds of the total AHB housing stock in Ireland.

Social housing targets

Over the past two years, 2017 and 2018, the members of the Housing Alliance delivered more than 3,500 homes. The current government target for social housing output is 50,000 additional homes by 2021; our members will play a pivotal role in meeting this target.

Collaborations and partnership are key to addressing the housing crisis. We want to work together with local authorities and their newly-elected members to deliver more homes, at scale, for individuals and families who urgently need them. However, in order to ensure a better and more sustainable supply of social and affordable housing, we need political support for action in three specific areas.

Firstly, we want to see a time-lined action plan developed by the Government to explore all options to move AHBs ‘off-balance-sheet’ and provide practical support to do so. In 2018, Eurostat and the Central Statistics Office deemed 14 of the largest AHBs to be part of the ‘General Government’ sector and, as a result, on the Government’s Balance Sheet. This may have significant negative consequences for the funding of AHBs in the medium to long-term, limiting the capacity of Housing Alliance members to source funds from Government or external sources.

Secondly, we want to see the Government introduce new and sustainable affordable rental and cost rental schemes, beyond existing pilot models, to fully utilise the potential offered by AHBs.

And, thirdly, we want to see the removal of barriers to the speedy delivery of homes by AHBs, including cashflow, limited availability of skilled construction staff, and lack of availability of suitable sites.

Support from newly-elected Councillors Local representatives play a key role in developing and implementing housing policy, and the members of the Housing Alliance collaborate and partner with local authorities on an ongoing basis.

AHBs of the Housing Alliance can deliver more homes to help the State meet its social and affordable housing commitments. Concerted action is required to overcome the obstacles outlined here. This will allow Housing Alliance members to deliver homes, making a real difference to the lives of individuals and families all around the country.

In the wake of the local elections, we are calling on the newly-elected Councillors in Cork – and throughout the country – to help us progress our three priority areas to ensure AHBs can provide more social and affordable homes.

Further information on the Housing Alliance is available at www.housingalliance.ie.

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