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Oaklee Housing: Looking to the future

Cromwellfort Road, Dublin 12.

2019 marked the completion of the Oaklee Housing’s last Corporate Plan for 2016–2019. Sharon Cosgrove, CEO of Oaklee Housing, reflects on the successes of this four-year plan and looks to the future.

Launched just a few months ahead of the previous government’s Rebuilding Ireland action plan for housing and homelessness, Oaklee’s last Corporate Plan set six ambitious goals, alongside a target to double the number of homes under Oaklee management by the end of its term. These were:

  1. business growth;
  2. long-term viability;
  3. service excellence;
  4. managing assets;
  5. raising profile; and
  6. good governance.

Over the four-year period of the last plan, Oaklee’s stock started with 625 homes and grew to just under 1,300 homes. This level of business growth, with a doubling of housing stock, required drive, determination and energy from everyone involved, as well as the support of our partners and funders. In early 2016, the geographic coverage of these homes was across 14 counties and spread to a further four by 2019. With 1,300 families housed, Oaklee extended services to meet the needs of their customers. Like all plans, it didn’t foresee some of the challenges that would face, but neither did it foresee some of the exciting opportunities that would be seized.

Achieving the goal of doubling Oaklee’s housing stock meant that ensuring the long-term viability of the organisation was critical. Diversification of its funding base and protecting the assets of Oaklee necessitated the exploration and implementation of alternative finance mechanisms.

In December 2017, Oaklee reached financial close on a €50 million bank facility which was the first ever private finance Special Purpose Vehicle structure established by an approved housing body. From December 2017 to June 2020, this SPV structure, Acorn Housing, involved 7 drawdowns from the facility and the acquisition of 217 homes, many of which were vacant second-hand homes requiring works to be completed prior to tenanting.

In March 2019, following an extensive tender process, Oaklee Housing reached contract close as part of the Comhar Housing consortium on Europe’s first ever European Investment Bank-financed PPP social housing project. Comhar Housing comprises Macquarie Capital, John Sisk & Son Ltd., Choice Housing Ireland in partnership with Oaklee.

This ground-breaking €120 million project involves the financing, design, construction and maintenance of six social housing development sites (543 social housing units) located in and around Dublin and Oaklee is contracted to provide tenancy management and community development services to the tenants in those communities.

The Project Acorn SPV structure and its participation in the PPP has enabled Oaklee to successfully meet the ambitions set out in its last corporate plan. It also served to demonstrate that an approved housing body can respond to opportunities, adapt quickly and continue to meet their business mission.

Heading into the next phase, Oaklee Housing will continue to forge strong partnerships and effective collaboration. The approved housing body receives ongoing assistance and support in the day to day work from local authorities around the country. Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF) and Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) funding assist its development programme and in relation to nominations into Oaklee schemes. Another group which Oaklee considers to be a key partner is its tenant group which, through feedback surveys and the tenant forum, contributes time and expertise to help Oaklee improve its services and share information to tenants.

The impact of Covid-19

Due for release in March 2020, the publication of the Oaklee Housing Corporate Plan 2020-2023 was delayed due to the outbreak Covid-19 which. This plan has been reviewed and amended slightly in order to address the impact that the pandemic has had on the business, particularly in the current year. The approved housing body will shortly publish and launch the new plan.

Despite the interference of Covid-19, ensuring the continuance of services has been a business priority. The safety of tenants and continuity of critical services was paramount during this time. Increased use of communication channels such as email, text alerts and the Oaklee website were vital tools in providing regular updates to tenants on changing levels of service.

Millteog, Athboy, County Meath.

With the sudden shift from office to home working, the focus for a period was centred on the uninterrupted connectivity, access to equipment along with the health, safety and wellbeing of employees. Zoom, Teams, Docusign, Remote Working, are phrases and practices now likely to remain with the organisation long after the pandemic has subsided.

Priorities for 2020

For 2020 onwards, Oaklee Housing has identified five priorities that will shape the next three-year journey. These are:

  1. deliver homes;
  2. invest wisely;
  3. deliver exceptional services;
  4. work closely with our stakeholders and partners; and
  5. measure success.

The corporate plan, scheduled for publication in mid-July will detail how these five priorities will build on the organisation’s achievements to date, strengthen the business and enable growth for the future, for the mutual benefit of its team, tenants, communities and stakeholders.

Programme for Government

With over 11,000 social housing units in the pipeline, according to the recently published Irish Council for Social Housing reports, 2020 looks set to be a busy year for the AHB sector as a whole. Indeed, with the programme for the new Government promising to deliver an additional 50,000 social housing units and the majority of these being built by local authorities, approved housing bodies, and state agencies, the next five years will be fruitful.

The role that AHBs are set to play in the Programme for Government is a positive move for the sector. One would hope that this is due to the contribution AHBs have made through the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland. It can also be directly attributed to the efforts made by the Housing Alliance, of which Oaklee are members alongside Clúid Housing, Circle Voluntary Housing, Co-operative Housing Ireland, Respond and Tuath Housing, to brief the Oireachtas on industry recommendations and opportunities that will assist the incoming government to address the challenges facing the housing sector. Having listened to these recommendations the result is a policy in which AHB’s are rooted.

Outlook for the future

Now more than ever, homes are at the heart of staying safe. Despite huge efforts at the beginning of lockdown to provide as many people as possible with a safe and secure place to live and a fourth consecutive drop, the number of homeless people remains at 8,876. This is far too high.

In the coming three years, Oaklee Housing will deliver an additional 450 homes, bring a further 534 homes into management and invest €10 million in maintenance and improvements in existing properties. These are only three of the commitments documented in the Oaklee Housing 2020-23 Corporate Plan.

Driven by a passionate, dedicated and skilled team of professionals, Oaklee Housing is eager to continue the job it was established to do: Deliver homes, create communities and change lives.

Siobháin Bunni
Head of Communications & PR
T: 086 194 2397
E: communications@oaklee.ie
W: www.oaklee.ie