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Centrus welcomes the Irish Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness

The Government of Ireland recently released “Rebuilding Ireland, an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.

The plan is comprehensive, looking across all aspects of the housing market and seeks to both understand the issues causing the current crisis in homelessness and undersupply of housing for rent and ownership as well as outlining plans on how they can be addressed in a holistic manner. In addition, the plan is innovative in seeking to ensure all key stakeholders from government and local authorities to social housing providers, both AHBs and in the private sector, will work together to deliver on the targets it sets out.

There are five key pillars of the plan: Pillar 1 – Address Homelessness; Pillar 2 – Accelerate Social Housing; Pillar 3 – Build More Homes; Pillar 4 – Improve the Rental Sector; Pillar 5 -Utilise Existing Housing.
In particular, Pillar 2 includes actions to deliver an ambitious social housing programme of 47,000 units to 2021 to be delivered with funding of €5.35 billion. This is a step up on the 2014 strategy which targeted 35,000 units by 2020. The action plan envisages a significant progressive increase in social housing build activity to over 5,000 homes a year by 2021. This will involve an acceleration in delivery from both local authorities and AHBs, as well as increased collaboration between these parties and the private sector, with a growing emphasis on delivery through large scale, mixed tenure developments. Centrus is already working with clients, drawing on its experience of working with housing associations and local authorities as well as private sector developers and funders, to help deliver on this ambition.

We also welcome the setup of a dedicated high-level Housing Delivery Office to be set up within the DHPCLG and the enhanced remit of the Housing Agency building on the excellent work they have completed over recent years. A Housing Procurement Unit will be established within the Housing Agency to provide a procurement centre of excellence and advice in support of local authorities and AHBs. There will also be provision of funding to the Housing Agency to acquire suitable portfolios of properties for social housing directly from financial institutions and investors.
There is continued commitment of government to enabling the Approved Housing Body (AHB) sector to play a central role in the effort to meet social housing needs. In particular, we note the following from the plan:

  • Increased supply in the private market will provide opportunities for AHBs to explore a greater number of acquisitions and harness, to a larger scale, the availability of low-cost financing from lenders, including the Housing Finance Agency.
  • The construction of new homes directly by AHBs using private finance will also be intensified
  • The Government is also committed to a range of other structural, funding and policy supports to increase delivery by AHBs. Among these measures will be the establishment of an Innovation Fund to support the development by AHBs of innovative financial models, such as SPVs or mutual bodies, to further enhance the contribution of the sector to the delivery of additional social housing and maximise the opportunity to leverage off-balance sheet funding opportunities.
  • A mechanism is also being introduced that will allow for the agreement of a two-year multi-annual CALF funding programme for AHBs.
  • It is also proposed to establish a unit within the Housing Agency to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ support to AHBs which will allow for better co-ordinated delivery under the various mechanisms across all local authority areas.
  • The Government will develop a policy on release of CAS/CLSS charges by the end of 2016. This will help ensure that existing and already paid for units can be used as security for the provision of new permanent social housing units by the sector.
  • The establishment of a Regulator for the sector, on a full statutory basis will be a key step in supporting its continued evolution and rationalisation.

We believe AHBs will have a key role in the delivery of large, scale mixed tenure developments where they will be required to work collaboratively with local authorities and the private sector to deliver schemes. In addition, AHBs will be one of the key parties to deliver cost rental accommodation which is currently being piloted by the sector.

We consider the volume of supports outlined in the plan for the AHB sector as very positive. Centrus believes that the non-profit status of AHBs and their ability to access private finance places them in a unique position to deliver social units whilst reducing reliance on funding from the government’s balance sheet in line with government targets.

From our discussions with the funders, we also believe the establishment of a Regulator on a fully statutory basis for the sector will increase the numbers of funders to the sector leading to increased competition for funding and greater structural and cost efficient financing for AHBs.

Centrus also welcomes the innovative aspect of the plan with a focus of attention on a series of Pathfinder Projects to test and demonstrate the Action Plan’s effectiveness.

For example, the Government will draw on learnings from the procurement process for the first bundle of social housing PPPs to enhance the delivery of future PPPs. Since the release of this report, we note the Government has announced that 450 new social housing units are to be delivered through a second bundle of social housing PPP’s with a capital value of approximately €100 million.

In addition, the plan addresses the need for more student accommodation to help alleviate housing supply for rent within the major cities and sets out actions to facilitate further provision of same. In this regard, it regards Grangegorman DIT campus accommodation as a pathfinder project, where the funding model implemented will help inform the provision of student accommodation by other universities. Furthermore, the plan includes ambitions to develop the private rental sector to help professionalise this new but growing segment of the Irish housing market, with the goal of attracting long term institutional investors.

Centrus has experience in raising private funding across the PPP, student accommodation and private rental market and looks forward to working with key stakeholders in the Irish market to help deliver innovative funding solutions for these initiatives.

Finally, the Government’s mission is to ensure that everyone can access a home, either on their own or with State support. A key priority of the plan is addressing the unacceptable level of homeless families and long-term homeless people in emergency accommodation, by providing rapid housing delivery, alongside measures to support those at risk of losing their homes. In particular, we note that the plan also includes many positive additional measures to support families with children.

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