Later in 2022, The Housing Agency will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary. As with all anniversaries, it is a welcome opportunity for the organisation to look back at where we began, our achievements, but crucially, to look forward to where we hope we will be in the next 10 years, and how we will get there, writes CEO Bob Jordan.
How much can really change in 10 years? When reading a history book, decades tend to fly by in a haze of global events and a period of 10 years can seem brief. In its first 10 years, however, The Housing Agency has witnessed the intense social, economic, and cultural changes experienced by the people of Ireland.
This time 10 years ago, Ireland’s housing issues were starkly different to today’s. During the recession, our work focused on unfinished estates, vacant homes and helping people deal with mortgage arrears.
While the focus of our day-to-day work has changed over the last 10 years, our overall vision has remained the same: we want to make sure that high quality and affordable homes are available to people to either rent or buy, in sustainable communities in the areas in which they want to live.
Progress in achieving this vision can often seem slow. Housing issues are complex, and it can take a long time for policy decisions to come into practice.
However, progress is being made, and it is important to take stock of some of our achievements and the progress we have made collectively with our stakeholders in housing over the past 10 years.
Achievements over the past 10 years
Brought to life in 2021, cost rental is a new form of tenure in Ireland where tenants pay below open-market rents that are solely based on covering the cost of delivering, managing, and maintaining the homes. Ireland’s cost rental model has its roots in the early years of The Housing Agency and is an example of how a complex policy can come to fruition with evidence-based research, collaboration, and determination. For example, The Housing Agency with Dublin City Council brought the Vienna Model exhibition to Ireland in 2019 to showcase the benefits of cost rental in another European city to Irish policy makers and the public. The first cost rental homes in Ireland were made available in 2021, with a healthy pipeline of more homes becoming available this year and into the future.
A second major achievement has been the successful introduction of the voluntary regulation of approved housing bodies (AHBs), supported by an interim Regulatory Committee within The Housing Agency, a precursor to statutory regulation carried out by the Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority. The importance of The Housing Agency as the interim regulator for AHBs for nine years, helping to prepare AHBs for this substantial change, is now being seen. A strong AHB sector is a key element to increasing the supply of social and affordable housing.
The Approved Housing Body Services Unit was established within The Housing Agency to provide assistance to the Department, AHBs, and local authorities to support AHB-led delivery. This unit carries out the financial appraisals of applications for funding by AHBs and provides the Department with recommendations on the levels of secondary loan (CALF) and Payment and Availability Agreements required for each proposal.
While cost rental was based on international best practice, the Mortgage to Rent scheme is an example of “outside the box” thinking that responded to an urgent need. Set up in 2012, the scheme’s goal was to prevent more people falling into homelessness as a result of mortgage arrears. This required a pragmatic, agile solution: allowing homeowners in mortgage difficulty to switch from owning their home to renting it as social housing tenants. Mortgage to Rent is an example of joined-up thinking involving several stakeholders to protect those at risk of losing their homes. To-date over 1,700 households have avoided homelessness through this scheme.
A further achievement is our assistance to households impacted by building defects. The Pyrite Resolution Scheme began in 2014, and today over 2,200 homes have been remediated. We will be applying our project management experience from this scheme in the implementation of the Defective Concrete Blocks Scheme, which is currently being finalised. In addition, the Agency has played an important role in assisting local authorities and AHBs in the delivery of new social housing, through on-the-ground project and procurement advice and management.
Working together for better housing
Over the last 10 years, some of the Agency’s most significant achievements have been made by working in collaboration with others to achieve common goals. The Agency has many stakeholders, with varying roles and responsibilities. For example, we have worked productively with local authorities on regeneration and refurbishment projects, acquisitions, practitioner advice and training; with AHBs on funding and acquisitions; and provided ongoing advice and implementation support to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The research we have undertaken or supported has helped to provide necessary insights on housing issues. We are in the unique position of having a deep understanding of the many players within housing in Ireland.
The launch of agefriendlyhomes.ie comes after a period of engagement and collaboration with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Department of Health and Age Friendly Ireland and is a good example of our collaborative approach. It is a resource hub providing practical resources, guidance, and information on housing for an ageing population with the aim of supporting the housing needs of people as they age.
One of the early tasks of The Housing Agency was to implement the 2011 housing strategy for disabled people. By leading out on the development of the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022 – 2027, The Housing Agency will champion independent living within the community.
With the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage we recently announced the new Croí Cónaithe (Cities) scheme, which will help those wanting to buy apartments in our cities. This scheme will bridge the current “viability gap” where the cost of building apartments is higher than the market sale price. Curtailing urban sprawl, greater public transport connectivity and encouraging apartment living are steps in the right direction in tackling the climate crisis.
Earlier in 2022, the Agency established the Housing First National Office which will coordinate and drive a national cross-Government approach to eliminate homelessness for people with complex needs and a history of rough sleeping and long-term use of emergency homeless accommodation.
The Housing Agency is committed to supporting innovation and progress in the housing sector. In 2021, we partnered with the Irish Architectural Foundation on Housing Unlocked. This open call sought creative and practical ideas to improve Ireland’s housing sector, in the areas of density, construction technologies, social inclusion, and environmental issues among others. Architects were asked to team up with professionals from a variety of disciplines and members of the public. Eight proposals were chosen to receive funding of €7,500 to develop their proposals into an exhibition piece. The exhibition will open to the public this autumn.
Every decision being taken in housing must be viewed through the lens of the climate crisis and developing sustainable communities throughout Ireland is a key focus for The Housing Agency over the years to come. Energy efficiency, quality of materials, reviving villages, towns, and cities throughout Ireland are central to achieving this.
Delivering on Housing for All
Housing for All, the Government’s housing plan for Ireland, sets key objectives between now and 2030, with the overall aim that “everyone in the State should have access to a home to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and in the right place offering a high quality of life”.
The Housing Agency’s deep understanding of the housing sector in Ireland, the collective experience of our team which includes housing policy experts, researchers, architects, engineers, planners, and our involvement in advising on and implementing policy decisions over the past 10 years will be crucial in supporting the successful delivery of Housing for All.
Specifically, our strategy for the next three years is framed in the context of Housing for All, and will focus on:
• supporting stakeholders with evidence-informed insights and data to develop a sustainable housing system;
• enabling supply and demand solutions throughout the housing system; and
• ensuring the Agency and its stakeholders have the capacity and agility to respond effectively to challenges in the housing system.
The Housing Agency’s work over the past decade has taught us that we all share the same goal: making good quality and affordable homes available to people where they want to live. As we look forward to our next decade, this goal remains central to solving the issues facing housing in Ireland.