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Housing, development and the future: ‘Providing quality homes for those in housing need’

Circle Voluntary Housing Association (VHA) is a general need approved housing body (AHB) providing quality housing for those on local authority housing waiting lists and have been providing homes for families in Ireland since 2003.

Originally a Dublin based AHB, with a niche specialism in owners’ management companies (OMC) and block management-leasing from local authorities, in the past 24 months the organisation has gone through significant change in strategy to facilitate an expansion of its geographical reach.

The appointment of new CEO John Hannigan has seen the organisation expand its activities beyond Dublin and into the Greater Dublin Area, south eastern, south and mid-west regions in particular. Investment in the development team of Circle VHA has seen a two-member team unit to a current standing of five. Development is one of four key strands within the organisation. The organisation is one of the first in the county to split its housing section into ‘property services’ and ‘housing management’ to match individual skills more closely with their chosen area i.e. tenancy management, OMC/block management, service charges, property maintenance.

Who? Meet the development team

  • The team is led by Head of Development Pat Costelloe, who has significant experience in the not-for-profit sector, including Rehab Group.
  • Senior Team Administrator Elaine Keogh is a vital member of the team and ensures that processes are implemented and projects progress smoothly.
  • Senior Development Officer/Business Development David Linehan sources and secures new business and pursues relationship management.
  • Development officers Martin Hartnett and Áine Ní Mhearáin undertake project management and delivery.

What? Activity within the department

The development team are actively sourcing and securing turnkey developments throughout the country many on a forward contract basis. For instance, in 2019, Circle drew down funds to acquire 40 three-bed homes in Fairfield Park, Waterford. This is a first outside the Leinster region for the organisation. This scheme was acquired through Frisby Construction and the relationship subsequently established is a key aspect for continued business.

Turnkey new housing developments

Circle VHA have also acquired our first tranche of 20 homes from the Housing Agency at the time of writing, with another 15 set to be acquired imminently. These are located throughout the country, building on relationships with various Local Authorities and the Housing Agency. These homes were all secured through the Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF)/ Payment and Availability (P&A)/private finance funding arrangements

In the past, Circle VHA has also acquired Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) units for specific needs, including for the elderly and the homeless, on a case-by case-basis and previous delivery has focused heavily on this element.

In total, 2019 saw the delivery of 160 homes, with a target for 2020 to acquire over 200 homes. Primarily, this delivery will be achieved through the acquisition of homes through CALF and private finance or our recent term loan of €51 million was secured through AIB. The first 20 homes from the Housing Agency were recently delivered through this facility.

The organisation is currently in the following county regions and has delivered or is contracted to homes in this locality.

Dublin, Cork (first homes in 2019), Wicklow, Waterford (first homes in 2019), Tipperary, Wexford, Meath, Kildare. 2020 will ultimately see the organisations first turnkey in Laois. With the expansion of the organisation, employment opportunities have spread from same with a region office now located in Fermoy, Co Cork with three members of staff now located here.

Due for Drawdown at the time of writing are two stand-alone apartments block of 24 apartments in An Muileann, Swords, Co Dublin, constructed by leading Home Builder, Ardstone. Alongside nine homes in south Dublin, Clondalkin Dublin 22 and a 40-home scheme nearing completion in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow are in the pipeline also for delivery also in the coming weeks.

Construction

Specifically focusing on employer-led construction or the direct design and build procurement model, the development team has recently acquired a site with full planning permission for 28 apartments in Old Coolock Lane, Santry with the support of Fingal County Council. Circle VHA have also secured planning permission on Railway Street, Dublin 1 to construct 47 apartments through employer-led construction scheme. In strategic partnership with Dublin City Council, this scheme will be funded through a Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government CALF loan and private finance.

“With our 30-year agreement and our existing structures, we estimate we will be able to bring approximately 300 social houses to the market each year. What we have achieved is a modern approach to financing that has never been accomplished in this sector before.” — John Hannigan, CEO Circle Voluntary Housing Association

Full planning has been granted on former St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore beside Thornton Heights, which Circle presently provides management services to. A 52-home older person scheme as well as a multi-agency strategic partnership, this will be CAS grant aid funded. This is the first in the county and will provide a step-down service for older people with supports in place. This is a pathfinder project under the Rebuilding Ireland programme.

How? Determining Viability of scheme

Typically Circle VHA runs four key stage tests to determine viability of a project which is typically turnkey or portfolio.

  1. Local authority support: Is the local authority willing to support housing in this particular locality to meet prevailing demand and maintain a sustainable community profile?
  2. Fit for purpose: Are the new turnkey homes Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (BCAR) certified and warrantied?
  3. Value for money: Does the project represent value for money within open market value confines?
  4. Geographic proximity: Is the project within our geographical reach?

Collaborative links and relationship building

To deliver on pipeline objectives relationship building and sustainability is a vital aspect of what we do. With the heavy emphasis under the draft programme for government, developers are keen to establish links with Tier 3 AHBs such as Circle VHA.

Circle VHA is actively engaging with a number of key developers and smaller construction firms in achieving its turnkey output objectives. The development team emphasis is to make and build on strategic developer relationships.

Funding

A recently agreed term loan of €51 million of private finance from AIB has been agreed and is one of the biggest in the sector. On this significant achievement, John Hannigan stated: “With our 30-year agreement and our existing structures, we estimate we will be able to bring approximately 300 social houses to the market each year.

“What we have achieved is a modern approach to financing that has never been accomplished in this sector before. It is a sustainable model which will benefit thousands of families over the course of many years due to the revolving nature of the credit, allowing us to expand and provide additional homes on an ongoing basis.”

Circle is also an approved borrower on the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) and many schemes in the past and into the future have and will be funded by it.

The AIB credit facility is a unique selling point when attracting developers to Circle and combined with a revolving credit facility can give access to funds in a short timeframe providing certainty around funding and drawdown elements making circle VHA a partner of choice, with a scheme delivery exit strategy for developers.

The benchmark for Circle VHA pipeline ambitions from 2020 onwards is approximately 300 homes per annum. Accelerated delivery will benefit those on the fringes of society to give a stable home and a key to the door which is such a powerful and meaningful moment in anyone’s life: a second chance. Together with our key stakeholders, including the local authorities and the Department for Housing, we are ready to deliver much needed homes.

T: 01 407 2110 (Pat Costelloe)
E: Development@circlevha.ie
W: www.circlevha.ie