Housing problem is big, complex and real

Housing is a key issue on Cork City Council’s agenda — so says Director of Services at Housing and Community, Valerie O’Sullivan, as we continue our week-long series by the local authority
Housing problem is big, complex and real
28 units at Sheridan Park, Tramore Road completed in February of this year.

IT is not a surprise that the Housing and Community Directorate is the most active section of Cork City Council as it is in the ‘eye of the storm’ of the national homelessness and housing crisis.

Housing isn’t just about bricks and mortar, it is a basic human requirement as well as being a core sector of the economy. The housing problem is big, complex and it is ‘real and now’. Ireland’s dysfunctional housing sector is expressing itself daily for families with visible and non-visible homelessness and soaring rent levels. Cork City as the second largest urban centre in the country is no stranger to these problems and over the past two years and more recently as part of the Government‘s response to the crisis in Rebuilding Ireland.

All sections are at the front line of the crisis and doing their best to provide solutions with the resources available. It is well acknowledged nationally that a key part of the resolution of the problem is the supply side; put simply more social housing units need to be built and it must be ensured that almost all existing housing assets are available for occupation. The Council already owns and manages over 9,000 units directly and supports housing associations and voluntary bodies to manage more. Furthermore, opportunities should be sought out to bring an adequate supply of housing on stream over the coming years as the city population is increasing with net migration and continued urbanisation.

The programme of works to address the issues on the social housing supply and regeneration side is very substantial when you consider that the Council started from a standing start in 2016 after almost a decade of inactivity and stalemate in the social housing supply sector.

There are many challenges: limited supply and limited stock, rising rents, lack of enabling infrastructure, a high demand for urban living adjacent to existing services and a slowly recovering banking and construction sector. These challenges are further complicated by increasing regulation particularly in the areas of planning , procurement and certification of finished buildings. Still despite these challenges the council has set itself ambitious targets and is delivering in the area of housing supply by means of traditional and novel forms of procurement with the support of the council members and key community stakeholders.

Paudie Murnane, Murnane & O'Shea with Valerie O'Sullivan, Director of Service, Housing & Community Cork City Council, at the Respond Housing Association, Social Housing Development, Ashmount Mews, Silver Springs, Cork.Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Paudie Murnane, Murnane & O'Shea with Valerie O'Sullivan, Director of Service, Housing & Community Cork City Council, at the Respond Housing Association, Social Housing Development, Ashmount Mews, Silver Springs, Cork.Picture: Jim Coughlan.

New homes have already been delivered at Sheridan Park, Togher and currently more than 160 units are under construction in Togher, Blackpool and Blackrock and another 170 homes in the final planning / procurement stages and are funded to start on site by next month. A number of other projects are at various stages and will be advanced in the coming months. Other larger plans have commenced and are progressing towards delivery such as a mixed tenure project consisting of 153 new homes on council lands on Boherboy Road in addition to the plan for almost 550 private homes on a 25 hectare council landbank on the Old Whitechurch Road. The Council has been approved for grant aid of just under €10 million on the latter site under the Rebuilding Ireland LIHAF enabling infrastructure fund.

It is not just large new schemes that are being considered but also improvement and construction of special extensions and adaption works to facilitate tenant families with special needs or overcrowding; 40 such schemes have gone to construction with a quarter complete and the rest to be completed by summer’s end. These very important works are grant aided by Government under the Rebuilding Ireland programme. The Council has purchased and upgraded a supported student complex to assist persons in accessing accommodation that otherwise would find themselves homeless.

Cork City Council meets social housing demand by the purchase of existing private stock, return of vacant properties, Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), Housing Assistance Payment (HAP), Social Leasing and partnerships with Approved Housing Bodies. A total of 2094 units have been provided or tenancies created for the two year period 2015 — 2016.

The City Council has also a substantial regeneration programme underway in the Cork North West quarter with 29 homes to be completed by September and a further 149 homes to commence by early 2018.

Choice Based Lettings (CBL) has been in operation in Cork City since November 4, 2015.

Refusal rates by applicants for council accommodation have dropped substantially in the intervening period. Phase 2 of CBL which includes properties being delivered by Approved Housing Bodies will came into operation in quarter two of 2017.

Fabric upgrade programmes are being implemented across thousands of council properties across the city which are benefitting from substantial better energy and insulation measures.

Tomorrow: Cork city’s Flood Defences — the challenge ahead.

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