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Leading change and doing things differently

Cluain Estate, Montrath, Co. Laois.

At a time of unprecedented housing need in Ireland, with almost 140,000 people on housing waiting lists and over 10,000 people experiencing homelessness, there continues to be an urgent need to not only increase the national stock of social and affordable housing but to provide individuals and families with supports that will allow them to live comfortably and independently in their communities, writes Sharon Cosgrove, Chief Executive Officer of Oaklee Housing.

Oaklee Housing was established in 2000 in response to Ireland’s growing housing need. One of Ireland’s fastest growing Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), Oaklee Housing, now with over 1,100 social housing units in its portfolio, is run by a voluntary board, is registered with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, has charitable status and is committed to playing a leading role in the delivery of quality social and affordable housing.

With a core business focused on developing and acquiring high quality social and affordable homes, Oaklee Housing is determined to play its part in meeting the housing targets as set out in Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness – an initiative of the Irish Government designed to address the needs of homeless people and families in emergency accommodation, accelerate the provision of social housing, deliver more housing, utilise vacant homes and improve the rental sector.

Having delivered over 1,100 social housing units so far and with the ambition to further increase this number to 1,870 by March 2021, Oaklee Housing remain at the forefront in the provision of social housing in Ireland.

With over 280 units planned for completion in 2019 alone Oaklee Housing continue their commitment to deliver quality housing, professional estate management along with exceptional tenant support services that enhance the lives of customers and communities.

Working in partnership

The Oaklee 2016–19 Corporate Plan set out to work in partnership with local authorities, government agencies, funders and the private sector to at least double the housing stock by 2019 through acquisition, development, leasing and management.

The fruits of this plan are evident in the success of a number of developments launched through 2018 and early 2019.

In February 2018, Oaklee Housing announced the opening of the €1.3m social housing scheme at Cluainín estate in Mountrath, County Laois. The project, which involved significant repair and structural work to the homes, bought as partially completed units in a receiver sale, was supported with a combination of funding from the Housing Finance Agency, the Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF) via the Housing, Planning and Local Government and with the support of Laois County Council.

The Oaklee Housing announcements continued through 2018 with the opening of Stormanstown House comprising 42 new homes on the Ballymun Road, Dublin 9 followed by the investment of €6 million by Oaklee Housing, funded again by CALF, in the in the development of 27 new homes for the Kilkenny region.

In May 2019, Oaklee Housing received the green light for their new €9.5 million construction project in Kearney’s Field, Tullamore, County Offaly. Working in partnership with Offaly County Council, Oaklee Housing proposed the development of a site, which will include 41 new housing units; providing much needed homes in the area.

Innovative finance structure

In addition to delivering on their ambitious development programme the Oaklee Housing management team sought to consider alternative and innovative ways through which to fund and source the acquisition of additional housing stock.

Since 2017, under the Housing Agency’s Vacant Housing Purchase Initiative (VHPI), Oaklee Housing has been successful in their bid to acquire 254 vacant units. With Caretaker Agreements in place the homes are repaired and allocated to many homeless families nominated by various local authorities.

Oaklee worked closely with financial and legal advisors to secure finance the purchase of these vacant units and in December 2017 a €50 million debt facility with German-based Norddeutsche Landesbank (NORD/LB) was agreed. The debt facility was based on a project financing structure through Acorn Housing, a wholly owned subsidiary and charity, or Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), of Oaklee Housing. Oaklee acquires the vacant properties using this, SPV Acorn Housing.

Oaklee Housing is proud to be the first AHB to establish a financing structure of this type. The Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) loan structure provides Oaklee with access to committed, non-recourse, long-term fixed rate debt from a private funder utilising the existing CALF and Payment and Availability funding support structures available to AHBs from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government through local authorities.

Through Project Acorn, Oaklee plan to acquire a further eight tranches of VHPI properties over a two-year period, delivering a further 250 homes for households who are homeless or who are on the social housing waiting list.

As of the end of April 2019, Oaklee Housing has been selected to deliver 254 properties by the Housing Agency. They have signed Caretaker Agreements for 205 properties, repairs have been completed to 148 properties and 114 have been tenanted and to date 100 have been acquired. In 2019, Oaklee is working to complete repairs to the vacant units it has been awarded and complete the acquisition through Acorn Housing SPV financing structure.

Social housing PPP

In March of this year, the Irish Government announced a number of significant firsts: Ireland’s first ever PPP contract for social housing; Europe’s first ever European Investment Bank-financed PPP social housing scheme; and the first time five local authorities have collaborated on a major social housing project.

Oaklee are proud to be part of this partnership and will be providing tenancy management and community development services to the 543 households across the six sites. Construction is underway and will come into management from early 2020.

Stormanstown House, Co. Dublin.

Putting customers at the heart of the operation

For Oaklee Housing, the provision of exceptional estate management and tenant support services goes hand-in-hand with delivering high quality social housing.

Imbedded in their values is the promise to their tenants to provide a trustworthy, customer centric and dynamic level of service.

With the performance of their Customer Services team under constant scrutiny, the provision for great care, efficient repairs and value for money is a priority for the management team.

Looking to continually improve, Oaklee has developed a number of initiatives aimed at not only enhancing their housing management service but to make their tenants feel informed and involved in the communities in which they live.

The future is now

The ambition for Oaklee is to grow and expand their operations and to continue their positive contribution to the national housing strategy into 2020 and beyond.

In the short term, the target is to deliver a further 280 new social housing units across the country, completing the construction of our new developments in Poplar Row, Dublin and Walkin Street, Kilkenny and to commence construction on site in Tullamore, County Offaly, in Clones, County Monaghan, Tierney Street in Ardee and on the Orchard site in Limerick city.

In terms of the asset management strategy, the business will focus on further investment in their current assets through repairs, refurbishments and implementation in energy efficiencies throughout their property network.

Future proofing the organisation from a resource perspective is also a focus for the business. Attracting and retaining talent in a fully recovered and busy construction sector is just one of the challenges the organisation is preparing for.

Building the brand and finding new and innovative ways of doing business is high on the agenda for future growth of the organisation.

As with every Irish organisation the unknown impact of Brexit features on the management team agenda. Whatever this looks like, the future is bright for Oaklee Housing with ambition, passion and drive evidently at the heart of what they do.

Siobháin Bunni
Communications and PR Manager

T: 086 194 2397