New model for social housing in Dublin

Housing estates would provide social and private rental accommodation

Dick Brady, head of housing at Dublin City Council. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Dick Brady, head of housing at Dublin City Council. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:00

Dublin needs “public housing” not just social housing, to tackle the crisis in the supply of rental accommodation, Dublin City Council’s most senior housing official has said.

The council plans to test a new model for the construction of public housing, which would provide private and social homes, on council-owned vacant development land in the city. Unlike previous housing schemes, the emphasis would be put on providing accommodation for rent, rather than for sale.

“We’re seeing rents shooting up and families who would not ordinarily come to their local authority are finding themselves in trouble. Demand is increasing all the time and we need the supply side to catch up,” head of housing Dick Brady has said. The council has accepted that owner-occupiers are reluctant to buy in what would be perceived as social housing estates, but Mr Brady said renters do not have the same qualms. “There is a certain amount of market resistance to the purchase of units but there is demand for private letting.”

Social housing

Public-Private Partnership (PPP) schemes with property developers were the standard method of providing social housing in the last two decades.

Under these schemes the council supplied the land and a developer built social and private housing, using the sale of the private properties to offset the cost of building the council housing.

However, when property prices collapsed developers pulled out of the deals, leaving several planned housing schemes unbuilt.

“The PPPs were based on a short-term view. They were built for making a profit. The idea was that the developer built fast and built lots, sold the private housing, got their money out and then were gone. What we want, what we need, is people who take a longer term view,” Mr Brady said.

The new model would take reliance on property developers and the sale of housing out of the equation.

“The issue is one of finance. How do you finance the building of social housing into the future? How do we structure, develop and deliver social housing that is still economically viable? Public housing is a way of achieving this. A proportion of the development would be market rent and a proportion for social rent. You are using one to subsidise the other, and you get tenure diversity.”

The council has been approached by a number of institutional investors who want to put their money into housing development, and the rental returns it offers, for the long term, Mr Brady said.

Institutional investors

“The people coming in to talk to us say they have substantial amounts to invest in housing. These are institutional investors who can see that it’s a better investment than the interest rates currently available in the market.”

The council would use “pent up value” in its own land and put together financiers, builders and property managers, which could be voluntary housing bodies, to design, build and manage estates for at least 30 years.

The council has identified five sites that could be suitable for the scheme. Three are on the city’s north fringe. The others are to the west in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard. Next month the council’s housing policy committee will discuss a proposal to seek expressions of interest in relation to developing housing on the land.

“We need to bring the housing market back into equilibrium and keep it in equilibrium. We can’t be going through cycles of boom and bust. We need well constructed, well managed housing into the future,” Mr Brady said.