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Ark Housing Association: Diversity in delivery

Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey cutting the first sod at the new £6.5million shared social housing scheme at Ogle Street in Armagh City Centre. The Minister is pictured with (front row) Lord Mayor Kevin Savage and Deborah Donnelly, Ark Housing Chair. Also pictured (back row) are Chief Executive of the Housing Executive Grainia Long and Jim McShane, Ark Housing Chief Executive.

Welcoming a renewed investment focus on housing delivery in Northern Ireland, Ark Housing CEO Jim McShane says that ambitions for the organisation to maximise its capacity for growth will see it build an additional 900 homes in the next five years, including a diversity of house types.

Ark Housing Association provides housing and related services to meet the needs of families, older persons, and single person households. Our general needs homes include a range of house types, apartments, and bungalows, whilst our supported accommodation comprises of residential care, supported living, sheltered housing, dementia care, and mental ill health.

We also provide temporary accommodation for homeless families, and on 1 March this year, we successfully launched a new floating support service in partnership with the Housing Executive aimed at assisting families experiencing or threatened with homelessness in the Greater Belfast area.

As one of 19 housing associations tasked with addressing social and affordable housing provision, Ark Housing is committed to maximising its capacity for growth and aims to increase its contribution to social and affordable housing provision by building many more new homes over the next number of years.

As prefaced by Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey MLA in her Department’s recent call for evidence in the development of a Housing Supply Strategy: “Access to a safe and secure home is a basic human right, a cornerstone of life, essential to our health and well-being. Limiting access can harm community cohesion, hinder educational development, prevent people connecting to job opportunities; and have a negative impact on physical and mental health.”

With over 40,000 households currently on waiting lists for social housing, and half of those deemed to be in housing stress, the steady supply of safe, secure, and affordable homes will become even more acute over the next decade, as demographic trends on the number of households increase.

At Ark Housing we very much welcome the Minister’s renewed focus on housing supply as well as her recent commitments to significantly increase government investment in this area and to explore new models of provision in the form of intermediate and affordable homes.

In 2019, we undertook a fundamental review of our contribution to the social housing development programme and subsequently agreed an ambitious growth strategy aimed at delivering nearly 700 additional new homes by 2024, increasing to 900 by 2026.

This programme will require significant investment, amounting to close to £135 million for the period 2019 to 2026 with approximately half of that financial requirement funded by the Department for Communities through the Housing Association Grant programme. As of March 2021, approximately £30 million of that total figure has already been committed.

Our current development activity extends across most local council areas and is focused not only on increasing the number of new social homes in those districts, but on ensuring that we attain the right balance of diversity in house types and household profiles in order to deliver for the broad spectrum of need in our society.

Operational delivery of our development programme rests with Cathy Walsh, Director of Property Services; Susan Gibson, Development Services Manager; and Lily Kennedy, Development Assistant. To date the team are on track to meet our key milestones with 537 homes currently under management, 262 progressing on-site, and a further 228 due to start before the end of this financial year.

Ogle Street, Armagh

Underpinning our growth, we work to support and build strong community networks through our Tenant Participation Strategy and Shared Housing action plans. One such ‘Housing for All’ scheme, where Ark Housing will roll out a strategic community cohesion plan over a five-year period aimed at bringing people together, is our £6.5 million development at Ogle Street Armagh.

Occupying a prime and historic city-centre location this scheme will deliver 42 new homes including a mix of town houses and apartments, including wheelchair accessible accommodation to meet the housing needs of citizens. Officiating at the launch in May of this year, the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey stated: “I have asked the Department to begin the biggest reform of social housing in over 50 years. This includes building more homes, where they are needed. This new social housing scheme will provide much needed homes for families in housing need in the Armagh area. It reminds us too that homes make neighbourhoods and schemes like this create places where people want to live and to thrive as a community.

“When the transformational plan to make our housing system better was outlined, a key component was to improve housing, and to make sure there is a lot more of it. This Ogle Street scheme in Armagh demonstrates my commitment to delivering more homes through an ambitious housing programme consistent with New Decade, New Approach. I want to build more homes that meet the needs of our society, now and in the future.”

The scheme will be capital financed by a Department for Communities Housing Association Grant of £3.4 million and private investment by Ark Housing of £3.1 million. As part of the ‘Housing For All’ programme the scheme attracts an additional £598,000 of Good Relations funding.

Commenting at the launch on behalf of Ark Housing, Chair Deborah Donnelly says: “On behalf of Ark Housing Association, and our developing partners Ogle Street Investments, I was delighted to welcome Minister Hargey, Lord Mayor Savage and Housing Executive Chief Executive Grainia Long to mark the official launch of this shared housing and mixed tenure residential development.

“Ark Housing achieved 232 new homes onsite in the past 12 months in our drive to help meet social housing need. This success would not be possible without the support and financial assistance provided by the Department and the Housing Executive and I would therefore like to thank Minister Hargey for her ongoing commitment to the Housing Association sector.”

Future considerations

As housing associations increasingly play a key role in delivering new housing supply, we will encounter a greater number of challenges as that activity is ramped up. Maintaining affordability whilst delivering future carbon neutral requirements may require a rethink across the sector in respect to financing options. Creating sustainable homes that are fit for the future will also require a radical rethink, and the long running issues of unlocking land supply, streamlining planning processes, and tackling our infrastructure deficit will remain high on our agenda as we move forward.

For further information on Ark Housing Association and its development programme, or if you are interested in working with us on our new build agenda, contact info@arkhousing.co.uk