Are non-profit housing associations the answer to meeting social housing needs?

Government says these groups have key role in providing affordable homes, but figures are disappointing

The Government has been keen to promote non-profit housing associations as a new vehicle for delivering social housing. But numbers have been falling – five years ago housing associations built almost 1,900 homes. By 2012 this fell to 677.

The Government has been keen to promote non-profit housing associations as a new vehicle for delivering social housing. But numbers have been falling – five years ago housing associations built almost 1,900 homes. By 2012 this fell to 677.

Tue, Jan 21, 2014, 01:00

There has been a dramatic change in how social housing needs have being responded to over recent years.

State investment has collapsed and there has been a greater emphasis on using the private sector and non-profit housing groups.

Figures show funding for social housing – both local authorities and housing associations – has been cut by nearly 70 per cent over the past five years.

The drop in output has been equally dramatic. Five years ago local authorities completed or bought almost 6,000 homes. By 2012 this fell to 714, a drop of 90 per cent.

The Government has been keen to promote non-profit housing associations as a new vehicle for delivering social housing.

Crucially, these housing associations can access public funds – via the Housing Finance Agency – in such a way that they are not counted on the State’s balance sheet.

But here numbers have also been falling over recent years. Five years ago housing associations built almost 1,900 homes. By 2012 this fell to 677.

Simon Brooke, head of policy with the housing association Clúid, says housing associations are keen to increase output but says it could take years before delivery is ramped up.

“There’s no quick fix, it can’t be done overnight,” says Brooke. “We’re going to need a number of measures to increase the supply of homes and private rented accommodation.”

He favours continuing social housing provisions under current planning law, which stipulates that a proportion of homes be set aside for social or affordable use.

In particular, he says, there will be a requirement to meet the needs of single people or couples without children who tend to fare worst when it comes to available social housing. The Irish Council for Social Housing estimates that non-profits at present have the capacity to develop and manage an additional 5,000 homes at affordable rents.

It says it is then essential that the Government embarks on an expanded programme of social housing delivery.

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