Conference looks at critical need to provide social and affordable housing

How can we meet the critical housing needs of our population through affordable and sustainable solutions? That is what will be examined at the Irish Council for Social Housing annual conference this week, writes AILBHE McLOUGHLIN Director of Policy at ICSH
Conference looks at critical need to provide social and affordable housing

The Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) host their annual social housing conference today and tomorrow. 

THE Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) is very pleased to be hosting our first in-person annual social housing conference since 2019, today (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday), October 19 to 20 in Sligo, sponsored by AIB.

New and effective ways of working, sharing and learning remotely emerged over the past two years, which the ICSH and our member organisations embraced. Now, our member approved housing bodies, also known as housing associations, as well as other key public and private stakeholders from the wider housing sector are keen to come together face-to-face; there’s a lot of work to be done.

The current challenges facing public and private residential construction are increasingly more complex and systemic, and this urgently requires a continued cohesive national response from the private, not-for-profit and state sectors. 

Our conference brings together the skills and people who can and must respond to the critical housing needs of our population through affordable and sustainable solutions.

The ICSH, established in 1982, is the national federation for non-profit housing associations (also known as approved housing bodies), representing more than 270 member organisations that provide social housing.

The sector manages over than 50,000 homes (accommodating more than 120,000 people) for families on a low income, older people, disabled people and households experiencing homelessness in over 600 communities throughout Ireland.

We’re 40-years-old this year and our footprint has grown steadily from around 2,000 homes provided and managed by the sector in the mid-1980s, to its current wider reach into urban and rural communities, including some islands. This expansion has been achieved via support from local authorities, successive government housing departments, and other key delivery stakeholders along with the sector’s own resources of land, buildings, financial resources, and social capital.

Approved housing bodies (AHBs) have a central role under the government’s Housing for All plan. Our sector’s targets are to deliver 40%-50% of the 9,500 social homes to be delivered annually and one-third of the 2,000 cost rental homes to be built annually to 2026; these are challenging but achievable targets. However, supply chain issues and spiraling inflation are impacting on current AHB delivery and pipeline projections. So, more than ever, sustainable financing models are key for AHBs to deliver on these multi-annual social and cost rental housing programmes with targets set by local authorities.

At the conference, the ICSH will launch a ‘strategic financial road map’. 

This is a key research report that assesses AHBs’ current financial capabilities and offers solutions that can enhance the sector’s ambition to be an innovative, financially robust and independent sector with the capacity to deliver more social, affordable and supported housing -and to significant scale- in accordance with the government’s action plan for housing, Housing for All.

Housing availability, security and affordability is undoubtedly the most significant socio-political issue in Ireland. The latest Simon Communities Locked Out of the Market report has some sobering findings. For the first time ever, there were no properties available anywhere in Ireland in September 2022 for people renting under the standard HAP rate. This clearly demonstrates the market’s failure to provide enough housing, and at affordable rents.

One of our conference’s key speakers is Eduardo González de Molina, Policy Consultant at the Barcelona City Council Housing Department. Eduardo will speak about how Barcelona has changed the paradigm of its housing policy, moving from a market-fixing to a market-shaping approach, where the role of the public sector is to shape and direct the market to meet a public goal: the creation of an affordable housing market. His research focuses on exploring how a mission-oriented and market-shaping approach can influence how housing policy can unleash affordable housing supply using symbiotic public-private partnerships.

Additional speakers include Luke Cross, who leads Social Invest, a communications consultancy working both investor-side and sector-side primarily in the placemaking and built environments, supporting organisations with their thinking and approaches across environmental, social, and governance (ESG) socially responsible investment and purpose-driven finance. Accessing private finance through social impact investment is critically important for the future sustainability and growth of the AHB sector. In addition to general needs housing, AHB members have continued to focus on key special needs housing. One of our conference sessions will focus on pathways to fund social inclusion. During this session, we’ll hear from Brian Dillon, a town planner by profession and National Coordinator of Cena, a Traveller-led Approved Housing Body. His first-hand experience with the Traveller community in Ireland dates back to research undertaken for the Task Force on the Traveller Community in the 1990s and he has, in his coordination capacity with Cena, been responsible for pioneering user-led approaches to designing, developing and managing Traveller appropriate accommodation.

At the ICSH Biennial Finance & Development Conference - Leading the Housing Sector Towards a Sustainable Financial Future, we will hear from a range of speakers on key themes emerging for the private and public housing sectors that include sustainable financing solutions; innovative and affordable housing delivery; vacancy, retrofitting and revitalising town and urban centres; and collaborative solutions to secure the future of the AHB sector.

A video welcome from Mr Darragh O’Brien TD, Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, will open the two-day conference, supported by AIB, which brings together more than 300 leaders and innovators from the public, private and non-profit sectors, including active AHBs.


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