Elderly and people with disabilities at risk of becoming social housing ‘underclass’

Number of homes built for this cohort has declined in recent years, says Irish Council for Social Housing chief

Older people and people with disabilities are at risk of becoming a social housing “underclass” due to a declining number of homes catering for their needs, Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) chief executive Donal McManus has said.

Smaller homes, and supported housing schemes, are not being built at the same rate as general social housing, despite a growing demographic of older people, Mr McManus said.

“As a percentage of AHB [approved housing body] delivery, the number of homes provided to older and disabled persons has declined in recent years,” he said, “whereas 25 per cent of households on the social housing waiting list are aged 50 and older, and almost 7 per cent of households on the social housing waiting list have an accommodation requirement due to disability.”

Just 634 homes were provided for this cohort in 2023, 10 fewer than in 2022, while general social housing provided by AHBs increased by 20 per cent over the same period.


“There are 6,000 people on the waiting list who are older persons and people with disabilities. In the past we had about 50 per cent of delivery from housing associations that was supported housing and 50 per cent general needs,” he said.

“Now it’s about 80:20 in favour of general housing and we need to rebalance that. We can’t overlook older people, who are a huge growth area, and people with disabilities living in poor conditions with their parents. We can’t leave them to become an underclass.”

There was a need for other agencies such as the Health Service Executive to become more involved in providing the supports needed for this housing to be successful, he said. “The problem is we don’t have overarching policies for that to happen.”

Mr McManus was speaking in advance of the publication of the ICSH Housing Association Activity Report 2023. Almost 6,000 social and cost-rental homes were provided by the sector, which accounted for 47 per cent of total social housing and 30 per cent of total cost-rental delivery.

Although the figures were encouraging, there was a need to ensure housing bodies were not “overburdened with debt financing”, Mr McManus said.

“We went from a feast to a famine. We used to have 100 per cent capital [investment from the State] but since the crash we’ve been moving into 100 per cent debt finance. That’s a big change over quite a short period of time.”

Although he had yet to see a failure of a housing scheme due the debts of a housing body, he said, the financing model was increasing the risks of development.

“If we want to grow as a sector we need to balance the level of debt with the amount of capital finance, and that’s a thing for Government to look at in the future if they want, as they say they do, the sector to grow at a very significant level over the next 10 years.”

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly

Olivia Kelly is Dublin Editor of The Irish Times