Nama set to develop affordable housing

Agency would raise finance, take planning role and work with developers

Nama homes: the agency’s joint ventures are already scheduled to have built 20,000 homes by 2020. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Nama homes: the agency’s joint ventures are already scheduled to have built 20,000 homes by 2020. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled that the Government is preparing to turn the National Asset Management Agency into a State-owned housing developer, to fill the gaps left by the private sector.

The agency, which was established in 2009, to act as a “bad bank” after the collapse of Anglo Irish Bank and related problems, would be transformed to focus solely on developing land and delivering affordable housing.

Government sources said the aim would be to allow it to raise finance, become involved in the planning process and work with developers. It would bring “Nama’s experience and expertise to bear in the public good”, senior figures said.

Reinvention or realignment

The sources differed on whether the proposals would require a complete reinvention of the agency or just a realignment of its mission.

The Irish Times understands that preparatory work by officials suggests amending legislation will be required to give Nama an entirely new remit, but political sources familiar with the proposal said the agency can increase its focus on delivering new housing immediately.

The agency already goes into partnerships with developers, and its joint ventures are scheduled to have built 20,000 homes by 2020.

Mr Varadkar mooted the idea at the Fine Gael parliamentary-party gathering in Clonmel yesterday, but senior sources insisted the proposal was still being developed.

The Taoiseach signalled the major intervention in the housing market by saying the State could develop land itself. “There’ll be future announcements about changes to planning regulations, so we can make it more affordable to build apartments in our towns and cities, and more affordable for people to buy them,” he said. “And also we’re examining the possibility of repurposing Nama to develop lands on behalf of the State, to step in where the private sector has failed.”

A Fine Gael spokesman said the Government was examining all options on how to increase supply of both public and private housing. Nama has built up expertise that can be used during the housing crisis, the spokesman added.

National Building Agency

The agency is due to be wound down by 2020, but there have been some indications it could fast-track that process to 2018.

The Independent Alliance had also raised this issue and sought the re-establishment of the National Building Agency. Government sources said this would mirror the work of the organisation, which was merged into the Housing Agency.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton said that no decisions had been made but that it was essential for Nama’s expertise to be used to its full potential. He added that the Government had already indicated that Nama has a responsibility in the delivery of homes but that its experience can also help the Government.

“It is natural to look at a body like this to see if it can play a new role,” he said. “The signal is now that the work is being done on the capacity of Nama to bring expertise to bear on the challenge.”