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Ó Cualann’s co-operative vision

Hugh Brennan, Ó Cualann CEO, unpacks the housing co-operative’s ambition to ensure its co-operative model for affordable housing can be replicated across Dublin and beyond.

Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance CLG (Ó Cualann) is a housing co-operative with Approved Housing Body (AHB) status. A not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, Ó Cualann is governed by a voluntary board of directors. Ó Cualann is committed to: ‘building communities – not just houses’.

Ó Cualann’s vision is to see fully integrated communities where tenant and owner members live side by side, sharing common amenities. The members of the first Ó Cualann project in Poppintree, in preparing the common charter, expressed a desire to live in Real Communities where:

  • people get to know their neighbours before they move in;
  • where they all look out for each other;
  • where mortgages do not cripple them;
  • where energy bills are low;
  • where homes are guaranteed to be built to the best international standards; and
  • where people feel safe and secure.

Ó Cualann’s mission is to develop and support communities which have: mixed income; mixed age; mixed ethnicity; mixed mobility and ability. In other words, fully integrated communities.

Fully integrated, co-operative, Affordable housing, professionally managed, can play a major role in resolving the housing crisis in Ireland. With the support of local authorities, religious orders and other progressive land owners, the co-operative model is the ideal way to provide affordable housing for renters and owner occupiers alike.

Accordingly, Ó Cualann will continue to:

  • work closely with local authorities to reduce land acquisition costs and development levies;
  • replace builder’s/developer’s profit with a 5 per cent surplus which is re-invested in Ó Cualann projects;
  • work with the local authorities and each new community to develop the necessary eligibility criteria including a ‘clawback’ or ‘gain-sharing agreement’;
  • work with each new community to develop a Common Charter;
  • arrange for private funding for the owner-occupied homes and for the affordable rented homes and arrange public funding for social rented homes; and
  • partner with likeminded AHBs or other organisations using best practice to achieve the best outcomes.

Speaking at the Finance Conference of the Irish Council for Social Housing, the Head of Housing at DCC described the Ó Cualann model as scalable and replicable across Dublin and other urban areas.

Ó Cualann believes that affordable housing, based on co-operative principles which have such deep roots in Ireland, can have a transformative effect in building a more just and equitable society in Ireland.

A dysfunctional and segregated housing system has many wider social implications such as access to education. Across Dublin, in suburbs like Dartry, over 90 per cent of young people participate in third level education. In contrast, in large, disadvantaged social housing schemes, the comparable statistic is less than 10 per cent.

Integrated housing, where mixed tenure housing is blended together, can have a transformative effect on these wider societal issues over the medium to longer term. Ó Cualann sees integrated, co-operative affordable housing as a means to create a more just society that can redress these issues. Ó Cualann will work in an open and collaborative fashion and will join forces with others who are committed to improving society through the Ó Cualann Model for integrated, co-operative affordable housing.

Inaugural project

With support form Dublin City Council, without whom the project could not be delivered, Ó Cualann set out to deliver well designed, top quality homes at an affordable price. The homes were designed by Smith and Kennedy Architects from Dún Laoghaire who obtained full planning permission for their design and the houses are being constructed by OHF Group, building contractors.

Inaugural Project

  • The Inaugural Ó Cualann Project of 49 homes is located at Poppintree, Dublin 11.
  • The site is 7.5km from the GPO (20 minutes by bicycle or 15 minutes by car).
  • 10 minutes for the airport.
  • 10 minutes from DCU.
  • Close to schools, parks & churches.
  • On three bus routes (4, 13 and 140).
  • Five minutes from M50 with Access to National road network.

The attractively designed and high-specification, A2 rated homes start at 140,000 for a two-bed terraced house. The average price of a three-bed terraced house is 170,000 and the four bedroomed units range from 200,000 to 220,000.

With all the benefits of living in a co-operative community; the initial project is heavily oversubscribed and Ó Cualann have a waiting list of over 100 people all anxious to live in the next development.

The price range brings into the market low to middle income earners who currently make up 40 per cent of the house buying population but are not eligible for social housing and are not being catered for by the market. In 2015 only 7 per cent of house sales went to this cohort.

AIB Bank is providing the Construction Finance facility while a fixed price, design-build construction contract was negotiated and signed with OHF Group, a Carlingford-based, award-winning construction company. OHF have engaged Cooney Architects, Dublin and Cavan, who manage the post-planning design, meanwhile HomeBond operate as Design and Assigned Certifiers.

Building work is underway on Phase One comprising 17 houses with the first five homes have been handed over on 19 June and the next four due to follow on 31 July. The final eight homes in the first phase will be completed at the end of September and the entire scheme of 49 homes will be finished in October 2018.

As a start-up housing co-op, Ó Cualann has had to overcome a series of challenges to get construction underway at the inaugural project in Poppintree. Progress to date was enabled by founders working on a pro-bono basis for 30 months, commencing when Ó Cualann was founded in 2014. Professionals agreed to defer their fees until the project obtained planning and was fully funded because they support Ó Cualann’s wider vision for integrated, affordable co-operative housing and saw the merits of the Ó Cualann Model.

The houses are covered by HomeBond latent defects insurance (LDI) and mechanical and electrical inherent defects insurance. The LDI also covers the 10 per cent deposits paid by co-op members/house purchasers which co-funds the development. The houses are priced to generate a 5 per cent surplus for Ó Cualann which will be invested in non-contractual items at Poppintree and in future projects. Peak funding requirement is low compared to the overall project build cost because Ó Cualann are building in phases and selling the houses as they go along.

Ó Cualann looks forward to replicating and scaling the model to produce: well-designed, top-quality, energy efficient homes at an affordable price in fully integrated, Co-operative Communities across the country.

Hugh Brennan, CEO, Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance CLG
8 Quinsborough Road, Bray
County Wicklow
T: 01 286 9237
E: info@ocualann.ie
W: www.ocualann.ie or www.facebook.com/ocualann