Rebuilding Ireland: level of delivery must match level of ambition
CIH policy and public affairs manager Justin Cartwright shares his thoughts on the government’s action plan on housing and homelessness.
The lack of new homes is a primary cause of the current housing crisis and the Rebuilding Ireland action plan is a thorough response by government. The plan is structured over five pillars; address homelessness; accelerate social housing; build more homes; improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing. While each pillar is vital the success of the plan will undoubtedly be measured by the number of new homes on the ground, particularly social homes over which the government has the most policy and finance levers. Together with the plan’s emphasis on keeping people in their current homes, new social housing, with support where needed, will ensure homes for the most vulnerable in society and relieve demand on other tenures and services.
Investment of €5.35 billion for 47,000 social homes demonstrates the government’s support for social housing, although commitments to invest to date have not matched delivery. Access to developable land and to affordable finance for many approved housing bodies (AHBs) have presented as barriers to building. Publicly held land must play a greater role in development and additional, accessible funding for more AHBs is needed.
An important difference with this plan over previous ones is that it seeks to explicitly address more of the barriers. The strategic use of state lands for mixed-tenure development, committed under pillar two, accelerate social housing, is welcome and could provide opportunities for more providers. Reducing the problems of income based segregation and associated stigma that influences public attitudes to development of social housing is vital and it’s important that the breakdowns of tenure in each development be informed by local circumstances and contexts. Also welcome is the proposal for a national land supply management strategy under pillar three, build more homes, which seeks to release ready to go sites, at reasonable prices for shovel ready providers.
Two year multi annual capital advance leasing facility (CALF) funding will mean more certainty for AHBs as CALF continues to play an important role in the levering of other sources of finance including private finance. This plan also builds on the government’s return to capital subsidy by providing additional funding to AHBs and committing to support the development by AHBs of innovative financial models.
There will still be challenges going forward, not least challenges of capacity which must be overcome if the new targets are to be achieved. The plan’s commitment to establish a dedicated one stop shop, within the Housing Agency to support AHBs will help with coordinating delivery of new homes but there remains a need for capacity building in both housing bodies and the construction sector. Opportunities for housing providers in other countries shouldn’t be overlooked, an Ireland open for business could realise more of the plan’s potential.
Elsewhere in Rebuilding Ireland is a commitment to develop a strategy for the private rented sector which is welcome. A build to rent model could encourage more institutional investors to bring good quality rentals onto the market, contributing to overall supply objectives. However, government should be cautious around introducing mechanisms to set and review private rent levels which could impact on supply. Rent setting policy is a balancing act between not wanting to drive landlords from the market or reduce investment levels in the upkeep of homes and not wanting to cut off access to affordable private rented homes, for people on lower incomes. Rent setting mechanisms might help in the short-term, but in the long-term, the best way of making sure people on lower incomes can access a decent home at a price they can afford is to build more homes, which is the primary focus of Rebuilding Ireland.
The level of ambition in the plan is welcome as much as it is needed, if we are serious about tackling the current housing crisis. But we must make sure that the level of delivery matches the level of ambition.
This is an article from the upcoming autumn edition of Housing Ireland. Find out more about the journal for housing professionals in the Republic of Ireland and read about the advertising and sponsorship opportunities.