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From Affordable Housing to Vulture Funds: An A-Z(ish) of Ireland's housing crisis

As part of The Good Information Project we’ve demystified some of the commonly-used terms about housing in Ireland.

IT CAN BE hard to figure out, let alone keep up with, every single word, term or phrase related to housing in Ireland.  

Cuckoo Funds, Part V, Judicial Reviews, the list goes on – but what do these terms actually mean?

As part of The Good Information Project we’ve gathered commonly-used terms in Ireland and put them in one go-to place. 

Affordable Housing Bill

This is Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien’s big effort to provide more affordable housing in Ireland. It was passed by the Dáil this week and has been described by the government as “the most comprehensive standalone affordable housing legislation in the history of the State”. The legislation has four parts: the first part of the Bill is a direct scheme of affordable homes on local authority lands, the second is a scheme for delivering cost-rental homes, and the third is to increase the requirement of 10% social housing on any development to include an additional 10% affordable homes. The fourth and most controversial part of the Bill is the shared equity component (see below). 

An Bord Pleanála

Ireland’s national planning body. It decides on appeals to planning decisions made by local authorities and also decides directly on major infrastructure projects, including Strategic Housing Developments (SHDs), which cannot be appealed.

Approved Housing Bodies

Independent, not-for-profit organisations that provide affordable housing for people who can’t afford to pay private rents or buy a home, including older people and homeless people. AHBs include co-operatives [housing organisations controlled by members/tenants] and have a housing stock of about 30,000 across 520 AHBs in Ireland. 

Architectural Conservation Area

An area or group of structures of special architectural, historical, archaeological or cultural importance, like Dublin’s Georgian Quarter. The designations of these spaces contributes to the appreciation and retention of Protected Structures [see below]. 

Brownfield Site 

A site that has previously been built on and that has potential for redevelopment. It is often land that has been used for industrial or commercial purposes and is usually derelict or vacant. 

Build-to-Rent 

A term used to describe private rented residential property in Ireland built for long-term rental rather than selling, and typically owned by institutional investors. Numerous build-to-rent developments, which often include shared amenities for residents, have been approved and built in Ireland in recent years -  however BTR schemes have attracted criticism due to the size of apartments built and the dominance of these developments in the current housing market. 

Bulk-Buying 

The purchase of entire housing developments – or part thereof – by institutional investors including Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs). Investors have been bulk-buying residential properties for many years, but the practice came into sharp focus most recently after it emerged that global investment fund Round Hill Capital had acquired up to 150 houses at a residential estate in Maynooth and 112 houses in North Dublin, which will be rented out as single-family homes.

Co-Living 

A form of communal living prevalent in cities like London which is typically geared towards students or city centre-based workers who share space such as living areas and kitchens within these developments. A number of co-living schemes were approved in Dublin before Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien banned co-living last year. However, An Bord Pleanála recently approved a number of these developments that had lodged planning applications before the ban came into effect. For more, see here

Constitutional Right To Housing 

The idea of inserting by way of referendum a right to housing in the Irish Constitution under Article 43. It is not as straightforward as it may sound, however. 

Cost-Rental 

Put simply, cost-rental means that the price of rent is equal to the cost of the build alone. Tenants are charged an amount that covers the cost of delivering, managing, and maintaining a home only. This means prices are not driven by market movements, making it more affordable, and there is no risk of the developer making a profit. The first such scheme in Ireland was launched earlier this week

Cuckoo Fund 

A term coined in 2019 to describe international funds that buy up large blocks of apartments or house to rent out, as opposed to “flipping” units like vulture funds do. The official term for them is Private Rented Sector (PRS) funds and they are backed by institutional investors like pension funds. The first investments in Ireland started around 2013 and this had grown in 2019 to to €1.1 billion invested in almost 3,000 units that year.

Greenfield Site  

A site located in a rural area that has not previously been built on.

Help-to-Buy Scheme 

A Government-backed incentive to help first-time buyers of newly-built homes to buy a house or apartment. It only applies to properties costing €500,000 or less and also applies to once-off self-build homes. The scheme works by giving a refund of income tax and Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) over the previous four years up to €30,000 or 10% of the purchase price. 

The Housing Agency

A Government agency set up in 2010 to support the housing functions of local authorities and AHBs. It also implements the Pyrite Remediation Scheme. 

Housing Assistance Payment [HAP]

A form of social housing support available in local authorities for people who have a long-term housing need. The scheme is administered by local authorities who pay landlords directly on behalf of the tenant. There are limits on the the type of household in a local authority’s area with tenants paying a weekly HAP contribution based on their income or ability to pay. The HAP scheme has been criticised due to its reliance on the private rental sector and the amount paid to landlords. 

Judicial Review 

A mechanism by which an application can be made to Ireland’s High Court to challenge the decision making processes of administrative bodies and lower courts. In the context of housing developments, this term is most often applied when a planning decision is challenged. 

Land Development Agency 

A State agency established in 2018 charged with overseeing the use of State lands for the construction of 150,000 homes over the next 20 years. One of the LDA’s main functions is to reduce rises in land prices by increasing the supply of sites to the market. Opposition parties recently voiced concerns over a Bill formalising the LDA’s functions, with Green Party TDs securing an agreement that 100% of homes built on LDA sites will be used for public housing.

Part V 

Part V of the Planning & Development Act is a mechanism which dictates that local authorities can obtain up to 10% of land zoned for housing development at “existing use value” rather than at “development value”. It is intended to facilitate the delivery of social and affordable housing. It is a requirement for developers to explain how they will fulfil their Part V obligation as part of any planning application. 

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Planning Application/Planning Permission 

The full details of a proposed development – this could be as small as an extension to a house or an entire block of apartments – which is then submitted to a planning authority – in most cases a local authority or An Bord Pleanála – for consideration. Conditions may be attached to a development if permission is granted. 

Planning Appeal 

When a local authority makes a decision, any participant in the application can appeal the decision to An Bord Pleanála within four weeks. A party can only appeal a decision if they are the applicant in question or made a written submission or observation to the planning authority about the proposed development at an earlier stage. 

Protected Structure 

A structure or building that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific or social point of view. Owners of protected structures are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered. These structures must be listed on a local authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS) to qualify for protected status. If listed on the RPS there are limits on what alterations can be made to these structures. 

Public Consultation 

A regulatory process which seeks the public’s input, most often carried out by local authorities and developers to gauge local reaction and feedback in relation to particular developments. 

Residential Tenancies Board (RTB)

The RTB is responsible for holding a register of private residential tenancies, AHB tenancies and student-specific accommodation tenancies. One of its core functions is providing dispute resolution between tenants and landlords as well as carrying out research into the private rental sector in Ireland.  

Shared-Equity Scheme 

A recently-mooted Government plan to allow the State to pay up to 30% of the cost of new homes in return for a stake in the property as part of its Affordable Housing Bill. The scheme is aimed at making it easier for people who don’t have high incomes to buy a home but critics have claimed this could raise house prices at a time when supply is constrained. Regional price caps have also been announced as part of the scheme and have drawn fierce criticism – €225,000 for houses in some rural counties, but €450,000 in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire (and €500,000 for apartments there). Minister O’Brien has said the prices are based on median prices in the regions, but the Opposition has claimed that half a million euro is not affordable in any circumstances.

Strategic Development Zone 

A Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) is an area of land that is proposed to contain developments of economic or social importance to the State. For example, the Poolbeg SDZ in Dublin

Strategic Housing Development (SHD)

Introduced in 2017 in an attempt to speed up housing provision, the SHD scheme made An Bord Pleanála a one-stop shop for deciding on large developments thus doing away with time-consuming processes of going through Local Authorities. Planning decisions for SHD schemes can’t be appealed but the scheme now looks set to be replaced by a system that restores the role of Local Authorities in the planning process for large developments and also introduces time-limits for making decisions under Government plans. 

Vulture Fund 

Investment firms that buy up distressed assets and properties from banks. Investors in the fund profit typically by buying debt at a discounted price and then sell the debt for a larger amount. 

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here

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