By Sean Ryan - 19 June, 2016
The housing association – Respond! – has welcomed the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness’ final report, particularly its emphasis on the building and acquisition of social housing and its new target of 50,000 social homes over the next five years.
Repond! founder/director Fr Pat Cogan ofm commented, “In light of the proposed increased target for social housing, Respond! is prepared to expand our design and planning department in order to increase our own published target of an additional 5,000 units over three years.”
He said the agency’s amended target would be decided upon after consultation with the officers of the proposed Housing Procurement Agency.
“It is important that there is no return to segregated housing during this difficult time and Respond! will continue to work closely with our Local Authority partners and assist them in planning and delivering integrated housing of mixed tenure, wherever possible.”
In particular Respond! welcomed the recommendation for a Housing Procurement Agency to be exclusively focused on the targets laid down in the report.
However, Fr Cogan said that “This Agency must be given requisite power and independent of other agency remits so that it has a direct decision-making role in the process. If this is not done, it will simply add to the problem of stifling bureaucracy which has bedevilled housing development for some time.”
Speaking about house repossessions, Fr Cogan said that the moratorium on house repossessions is long overdue.
“This must be done in concert with other housing options, otherwise it will simply mean that housing demand will continue to outstrip supply.”
An off-balance sheet funding mechanism has been sought by Respond! and the AHB sector for many years.
Speaking about the options available to the Housing Procurement Agency, Fr Cogan said “We welcome this as part of the toolkit of the Housing Procurement Agency. The requisite assurances and systems will need to be put in place to offset any risks undertaken by the sector at this time. Approved Housing Bodies are, in the main, charitable organisations, which cannot take on unsecured risks by law.”
The Franciscan priest also suggested that the planning process requires more in-depth analysis, especially when “vexatious objections delay social and integrated housing proposals”.
He added, “If necessary, special legislation may need to be invoked to ensure the speedy implementation of such emergency proposals at this time.”
Welcoming the proposed €1billion investment loan by the Irish League of Credit Unions to the social housing sector, which would also be off-balance sheet for the state, he said it would also be an endorsement of the ‘cost rental’ model as a sound basis on which to build social housing.
Looking at housing statistics Fr Cogan commented, “Ireland’s social housing figures have been far too low for far too long.”
In the Netherlands, 35% of all housing is in the social sector and the city of Rotterdam has 60% of all inhabitants in high-quality social housing.
“We can do this in Ireland if we are imaginative and plan our social housing properly into the future.”
“For the moment, we must deal with a housing emergency that demands the provision of more social houses than the system had previously planned. This will involve central Government, local authorities and approved housing bodies working closely alongside communities in order to reach these targets.”