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Housing: Ireland’s greatest domestic policy challenge

In the Ireland of 2018, the lack of adequate supply of social and affordable housing is one problem that continues to persist.

This is the primary cause of the recent phenomenon of ‘economic homelessness’, particularly among families, but it is also increasing the risk of homelessness to all sections of the population. The private rental sector provides an increasingly unstable environment for tenants and unpredictable changes in the market price creates an added risk of becoming homeless for low and middle-income families

This sense of uncertainty is affecting young families who are trying to put down roots in communities but find they have to move numerous times. This has negative consequences for family functioning and stability for children. We still have homeless families accommodated in commercial hotels and B&Bs with little or no facilities for laundry or cooking and places for children to play and to study.

Social cohesion is suffering as the State and NGOs struggle to deal with the number of families presenting as homeless. Competitiveness on the national scale is damaged as Chambers of Commerce are reporting that some companies consider the difficulty in finding affordable accommodation as sufficient reason not to locate in Ireland. Our key frontline workers such as teachers, nurses and gardaí are demanding wage increases in order to access quality housing. Older people are finding it difficult to ‘downsize’ as prices soar. This sends some to fulltime residential care when they might be able to live longer in their own community if we had a large and flexible social / affordable housing stock.

On every level, the lack of housing or secure accommodation can have a devastating impact on people and communities. It is clear that a range of measures or a continuum of support is required for us to collectively tackle this challenge.

Respond Housing

Respond was founded in 1982 by Fr Pat Cogan ofm and other concerned citizens of Waterford who saw first-hand the difficulty young families and older people faced in trying to source suitable housing. He established Respond as a not for profit housing association or Approved Housing Body (AHB) that over the past 36 years has made enormous strides to become a significant provider of social housing across Ireland. Since our foundation, Respond has built over 5,500 homes for those most in need. Over 1,000 of these homes were built and then transferred to local authorities.

Respond has over 150 estates in 25 of the 26 counties of Ireland currently managing 4,329 homes, housing 8,479 tenants. The first ever rental subsidy scheme was piloted in Respond and we make every effort over the years to continue to innovate, to pilot best practice and to never stop learning how we can increase our impact on the ground.

All Respond estates have Resident Support Workers and Technical Support Officers assigned to every estate. This ensures that estates are well maintained and that support and advice is available to tenants who may be in difficulty or require additional services. 88 of our estates have Community Buildings that serve as a central location for the community to organise, hold events and run courses for residents. Respond aims to provide a holistic service as we are always aware that ‘bricks and mortar’ is only one important element of the housing equation. Sustaining the tenancy is the other element and this requires equal professionalisation and management as the house-building side. Indeed, once the housing units are built to high standards the Tenancy Management piece becomes vastly more important for the lifetime of the houses and the estates.

Family Hubs

New housing takes at least two to three years before keys can be handed over to new tenants. We were aware, however, that there were thousands of families in need who could not wait this length of time. They need a short-term solution that provides them with accommodation that is suitable, safe and secure. This was the genesis of our Family Hub programme.

Family Hubs are a first response. Designed as a better and more caring alternative to hotels and B&Bs, families have the facilities in Hubs that they could not get in the private sector such as laundry, cooking and child-centred facilities. Most importantly, every family in a Hub has a Care Worker onsite 24/7 to provide assistance and to help the family on their pathway to secure housing. We operate three Hubs in the Dublin region in Tallaght, Drumcondra and Clontarf as well as supported temporary accommodation via our Suaimhneas service in Limerick city.

The statistics show that Hubs are working. The majority of families move-on to a Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) property or to local authority or supported housing within six to seven months.

The Tallaght Family Hub for example has a move-on rate of 88 per cent with families staying an average of five months. Respond is committed to opening new Family Hubs and to improving our services and our offering all the while so that families who leave Respond Hubs do so in a better position than when they arrived and are set up for success.

New Board, new direction

With our founder Fr Pat Cogan recently retired we are privileged to have an entirely new Board to oversee the future of Respond.

Our new Chair is John O’Connor who had a long and distinguished career in the former Department of the Environment before heading An Bord Pleanála for 11 years and is also currently the Chair of EirGrid. John is incredibly generous with his time and expertise and is deeply invested in the success of Respond and increasing our supply and our offering to residents. The Chair of the Finance, Audit and Risk subcommittee of the Board is Joe O’Connor, formerly Head of Capital Markets for AIB and he currently chairs the bank’s Pension Fund. Alongside the other members of the Board who are all experts in their field we are truly fortunate to be led by a PLC calibre Board.

Respond will increase the number of social homes in Ireland by at least 2,500 over the next five years.

The Board members are ambitious – both for Respond and for Ireland. To that end, in 2017 we embarked on a process to develop a new Strategic Plan to set a new direction for the next five years. The Board undertook a series of study visits to Denmark, the UK and Northern Ireland to learn from our sister social housing providers and hear what has worked for them and what has not. Experts, external stakeholders and staff were consulted. Most importantly of all, we consulted our residents as to what they most needed from Respond and how they felt we could go forward together to help play our part in solving Ireland’s housing and homelessness crisis.

New Strategic Plan – 2,500 new homes over the next five years

Our forthcoming strategic plan is quite clear that delivering new homes for those on the social housing waiting list is the single best contribution we can make to help prevent homelessness in the future.

We are also keenly aware that there is a section of the population that neither Hubs nor social housing can help. Commonly called the ‘squeezed middle’ housing prices in urban areas are now beyond the reach of those whom in the past would have been private owners. They do not qualify for social housing nor can they qualify for a mortgage as saving for a deposit is out of their reach given their extremely high expenditure on private rental. To this end, Respond is working in partnership with Tuath Housing Association and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to pilot ‘cost rental’ in this local authority area.

The Plan provides a series of goals for us to work towards so that we can provide a range of housing solutions – across the spectrum – from homeless accommodation to social and affordable housing.

Our goals are as follows:

Goal 1: Respond, with Government support and through a programme of multi-faceted delivery, will have increased the number of social homes in Ireland by at least 2,500 over the lifetime of the Strategic Plan.

Goal 2: In seeking to improve lives, Respond will place our tenants and residents in emergency accommodation, at the centre of our work and we will focus on positive outcomes and tenant satisfaction.

Goal 3: Respond will ensure that as many homeless households and individuals as possible have safe and secure housing in the short-term through the provision of supported temporary accommodation.

Goal 4: We will seek to develop an expertise in and deliver affordable housing to those for whom market rates are too high.

Goal 5: Respond will maintain a sufficient level of financial health to grow, develop and sustain housing provision for many more people.

Goal 6: In pursuit of social justice, Respond will become a high-performing, results-driven, accountable organisation which values our staff and those we work with.

Goal 7: Respond will be an effective voice for people in need of housing and homelessness services in order to effect positive change in their lives and will be respected and trusted by our partners.

Each of the goals requires us to take a specific set of actions and will be annually reviewed to ensure that we are on target.

Building homes, improving lives

Our vision is that every family in Ireland will have high-quality housing as part of a vibrant and caring community. We will do this by cleaving closely to our guiding principles:

A human right to housing: Respond believes that every human being is equal in rights and dignity and has the right to a secure, affordable home which meets their needs throughout their lifetime.

Social justice: All our initiatives will focus on creating a more just and equal society. We will seek to identify the root cause of social problems and, where we can, seek to address these through the deployment of our resources, expertise and energy.

Our new Board, new direction and new Strategic Plan demanded that we refresh our look and feel in order to reflect these changes to the wider world. Our new logo – a stylised thumbprint with housing at the centre – is meant to reflect that housing is a basic need, and that Respond starts with the individual and their need for housing and works outwards to the family and to the wider community.

We build homes, yes, but never forget our core mission to improve lives at the same time.

 

Respond aims to provide a holistic service as we are always aware that ‘bricks and mortar’ is only one important element of the housing equation.

 

The future for Respond

In many advanced democracies, non-government not for profit housing bodies are now the main providers of social and affordable housing. There is no reason why Ireland cannot substantially increase its percentage of subsidised or supported housing via housing associations such as Respond.

We have a development pipeline of 3,225 units – all of which have written approval from the relevant local authority as well as our own Board. We will commence construction this year of over 600 homes and at least 445 tenants will have new keys handed over by the end of the year.

We know that housing associations by themselves cannot solve Ireland’s current housing supply shortfall. The government’s plan Rebuilding Ireland has tasked the AHB sector with providing one third of the required 50,000 new social homes. This will undoubtedly be a challenge for the sector but one we believe we can rise to.

Over our 36 year history, Respond has always risen to the challenges which have presented themselves at the national level and within various cities, towns and local communities in Ireland. We have always been to the forefront of the housing association movement and we intend to continue to work closely with our sister organisations in the sector.

All of the changes within Respond are to enable us to fulfil our role in housing provision, alongside local authorities, the Department of Housing, the Housing Agency, the Housing Finance Agency and our fellow AHBs. There is nothing Respond can do under our housing provision plans without the written support of each local authority and its housing, planning and community sections. It is the role of AHBs, like ourselves, to support the Development Plan for each county and city.

Ireland can and will overcome our current housing crisis. It is only by marshalling our ambitions to a common goal and by working together – all sectors, central and local Government, AHBs and NGOs – that we can provide the housing our people truly want, need and deserve.

Contact:

Respond Housing

Tel: 01 808 7700
Email: info@respond.ie

@RespondHousing