Government seeks social housing pledge on Nama homes

Minister for Finance to support plan only if all social housing retained for such purpose

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has  indicated ‘cautious support’ for the plan.  Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/ Bloomberg

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has indicated ‘cautious support’ for the plan. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/ Bloomberg

 

The Department of Finance last year sought guarantees that 1,300 houses controlled by the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) would continue to be rented to social housing tenants in the future, even if they were sold by Nama.

Nama spent more than €200 million after the economic crash buying up the homes from bankrupt developers across the State, including places such as Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Douglas, Co Cork, and Bettystown, Co Meath, and elsewhere.

Today, the houses are leased to local authorities and housing associations as social housing by a Nama-owned subsidiary called National Asset Residential Property Services (Narps).

In a briefing note last November, the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe was told, ahead of a meeting with Nama’s chairman, Frank Daly, that Nama expected to sell off the Narps-held homes “later this year”.

The briefing note shows that Mr Donohoe indicated “cautious support” for the plan. However, the internal records show the department wanted guarantees from any buyer that the houses would be used for social housing in the future.

The Minister said this was “provided that all housing currently provided for social housing could be retained for such purpose into the future”. Officials warned that it was “unlikely to be possible for Nama to facilitate a sale of Narps while retaining 100 per cent assurances that these units will be used for such purpose indefinitely”.

Sale conditions

They also said enforcing such conditions on a sale “would likely have a significant impact on value achieved”. Sources also expressed concern about the political impact of selling off a large chunk of social housing that is currently in public ownership.

A note of the meeting shows Nama planned to write to Mr Donohoe this year “regarding their progress around the disposal of Narps”. However, both Nama and the department said on Thursday there was no sale under way, or currently planned. The strategy for the units will form part of a wider review of Nama which is under way.

The homes are leased to local authorities or social housing bodies which have an option to buy the properties after 14 years. The leases and tenancies would remain in place after a sale. Prospective buyers of the houses would be attracted by millions of euros in payments from the State under the lease agreements, as well as the full ownership once the leases expired.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the total payments from the State over the term of the leases would be in the region of €200,000 for each unit, or €260 million across the lifetime of the lease.

Mr Ó Broin said any sale of the units would be “an absolute scandal”, and added that the units should be transferred into public ownership with local authorities.