2022 is destined to be a very busy year, not just for Oaklee Housing but for the housing sector as a whole, says Oaklee Housing CEO, Sharon Cosgrove.
As pressure mounts for expedited delivery of new homes, the focus for Oaklee Housing remains firmly set on the key pillars as set out in the 2020-23 business strategy: to invest wisely; deliver exceptional services; and deliver new homes while at the same time working collaboratively with our stakeholders and partners.
“These,” according to Cosgrove, “are the goals that will keep us on track to deliver the targets as set out within it.” With the final year of the plan promising to grow our homes in management to about 2,400, Cosgrove has also set some additional priorities for the year. Included amongst these is responding to the Government’s Housing for All plan. “We carried out a comprehensive review of the development function, which will result in bringing in more technical and commercial skills to ensure that our own construction activity increases in the years to come.”
As Oaklee grows and the external environment changes, continually checking the organisation’s performance and structure to make sure they’re set up for success is a hallmark of Cosgrave’s leadership. “Ensuring we maintain a high-performing development team that can respond to the challenges we face is critical,” she explains. “We recently reviewed and restructured our operations team, which was hugely beneficial as we now have an incredibly high performing team with a genuine customer-centric focus under Caroline Casserly-Farrar’s stewardship.”
At the same time, with an eye on business-as-usual she, along with almost every other leader and manager across the globe, is focused on navigating through the ongoing risk that Covid-19 presents. Motivating the team to make up for the time lost due to the lengthy lockdowns and impeded work processes is an additional priority.
“This year will also see us move office,” Cosgrove says, “which, because we now operate a blended home-office work practice, means we also need to reassess our workplace requirements. There is a lot to consider.”
Also documented in Cosgrove’s additional list of priorities is securing borrowing to support and enable the Oaklee delivery programme and other necessary activities. This includes the on-going remediation of historical defects across Oaklee Housing’s estate of acquired properties constructed during the Celtic Tiger.
“This is a particularly significant challenge and, entirely, unplanned. This is likely to be one of the most significant financial and operational challenges for some AHBs since our inception,” Cosgrove says. “Poor construction methods, sub-standard materials and a disregard for building regulations resulted in an extensive list of defects that are only now coming to light. “We,” she explains, “along with all AHBs, have a duty of care to our tenants and as such rectifying these safety related defects is an absolute necessity.”.
With over 2,000 homes in management, comprising 1,508 Oaklee homes, including 217 purchased as part of its innovative Acorn fund, and 534 homes delivered through Ireland’s first social housing PPP, Oaklee aims to deliver a further 159 homes during the final year of the 20-2023 strategic plan. This along with almost 390 homes in the pipeline for delivery in 2023, 2024 and beyond, will bring its total property portfolio to 2,500 by the end of 2024.
As costs escalate, not only in the construction sector but across every facet of society, achieving value for money is a concern. With quality and sustainability, alongside actual cost, having increasing relevance in the purchase of goods and services, reviewing resources and contracts with a view to delivering a best practice approach to procurement is an additional priority for Oaklee this year. “It’s imperative in these challenging times that we deliver high quality, sustainable homes and communities at an affordable price. In doing so we must make sure that we continue to place the tenant at the heart of everything we do,” Cosgrove concludes.