With the first full year of the roll out of Housing for All, approved housing bodies (AHBs), or also commonly known as housing associations, are actively involved in a range of measures to support local authorities in meeting their social and affordable housing targets, as well as contributing to other related commitments in Housing for All.
The expanded AHB sector now comprises 50,000 homes in ownership and management, accomodating over 120,000 people. AHBs now have an active presence in over 600 local communities throughout the country where their work results in a wide-ranging impact even beyond housing. Therefore, the footprint of the sector has grown significantly from around 2,000 homes provided and manged 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 housing departments, and other key delivery stakeholders. This was combined with the amalgam of the sector’s own resources of land, buildings, financial resources, and social capital. The AHB sector is generally contributing up to an additional 10 per cent of new longer term social and affordable housing to the sectors’ overall housing stock each year.
Range of responses: from increased scale to targeted solutions
The Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH), the national representative federation of AHBs, was established by housing associations in 1982 and now has 270 AHB members, including those that are classified as Tier 3, Tier 2, and Tier 1 AHBs. The mission of the ICSH is to support the further development and promotion of a sector catering for a growing range of housing needs. There are circa 20 Tier 3 AHBs (those managing over 300 homes) of which a number of these AHBs have been successfully providing general needs housing at scale in recent years in a number of key local authority areas. In addition to this has been the introduction of the Government’s new cost rental programme, in which a targeted number of Tier 3s have moved into this new area of, provision and management of high-quality new homes for households on moderate incomes. One specific AHB has focused on delivering affordable housing for sale.
Complementing this increasing delivery of general needs housing have been other active AHBs, who have continued to focus on key special needs housing. This includes housing and supports to some of the most vulnerable households such as homeless households (including Housing First), older people, people with disabilities, refugees, travellers, and households with mortgage difficulties through mortgage to rent. This is important as some of the housing needs of these vulnerable households are often overlooked and classified as having complex needs that involves many partners to ensure delivery.
This is true but should not be a reason that the housing and support needs of these households cannot adequately be met. There are many proactive and repeatable examples in special needs housing such as with homelessness and other areas where working in partnership for the benefit of the tenants has yielded positive outcomes and improved social inclusion for these households. There is also growing collaboration within the ICSH membership, including the ICSH AHB Collaboration Programme, with assistance from the Department which will help to ensure a sustainable sector to address various needs.
Stronger starting point
One positive and important factor for the AHB sector coming into Housing for All is that the sector had a much stronger pipeline of projects that it ever had compared to previous new national housing plans. The sector has also been providing over 40 per cent of new social housing in recent years, and despite the impact of Covid, as well as other related restrictions in 2020 and 2021, the AHB sector will have collectively provided over 3,700 social and affordable homes in 2021, an increase of almost 15 per cent from 2020, of which 75 per cent of these homes will have been new build construction.
Priority areas to support continued AHB delivery
As a key partner in the increased delivery of social and affordable housing up to 2026 and beyond, there are a number of enabling factors that would support sector delivery and management homes and services to tenants. Underlying all delivery is the AHB sector having access to access to sufficient residential sites for social and affordable cost rental housing. This will be particularly important to enable the AHB sector to meet the 40 and 50 per cent government targets for delivery of all social housing in Dublin, Cork, and other local authority areas. Translating the inventory of suitable state land, as assigned to the Land Development Agency, should be one of strategic routes for AHBs to have residential land assembled for social and affordable housing projects over the next five years and will support the meeting of targets.
Aligned to this, in an increasingly and rapidly changed housing market together with increased construction price inflation and cost of loan finance, is the need to have regular reviews and proofing of the conditions of the capital funding schemes such as CALF, CAS and CREL (cost rental). This is important in allowing AHBs to be able to respond to the changing market conditions including construction costs, changes to rental valuations, cost of loan finance and increased inflation as well up to date unit cost ceilings. Even a temporary fix would prevent a lag emerging and some proposed projects becoming unviable in a changed market and being lost. Some of these interventions required are policy as well as operational to support both project and AHB financial viability. Bringing forward the CALF review to Q3 is a positive response to that.
Alongside these enabling factors for housing delivery are other capacity issues including those in Housing for All including an AHB retrofit scheme (bearing in mind the current cost of living issues for tenants) and the need for national programmes for special needs such as older people and those with disabilities which would include strategies to support services to tenant with special needs. While the AHB sector has increased its capacity in recent years with increased specialist staff and boards to respond to various schemes, work on concluding a number of legacy issues would free up more resources and support further AHB organisational capacity. These include resolving unsold affordable homes, apartment, and house defects, out of mortgage, rent structures and classification.
In responding to the commitments and programmes within Housing for All, the diverse AHB sector has engaged and will continue to do so in different ways through both mainstream programmes of new build and acquisitions, and increasingly so in innovative ways of repurposing and financing more commercial buildings and vacant properties so that Housing for All will live up to its objective in really addressing housing needs for all.
While the AHB sector and members of the ICSH cannot address all housing needs and solve every housing problem, strong strategic partnerships with local authorities through action plans and other key stakeholders will certainly be central to enable the sector being able to widen housing choice and deliver on improved housing affordability, social inclusion, and neighbourhood regeneration. Collectively, AHBs in the sector can deliver locally but will have a national impact.
For more information contact:
CEO, Irish Council for Social Housing