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Investigation: What is Nama doing to help increase social housing supply?

The ‘bad bank’ has identified almost 7,000 properties that are potentially suitable for social housing, with demand being confirmed for over 2,700.

With the occupation of Apollo House came loud calls for Nama to step up and focus its attention on solving Ireland’s current (and growing) housing and homelessness crisis. In this first of a three-part special investigation, TheJournal.ie visits some of the most affected areas to examine if the so-called bad bank has been playing its part in providing social housing.

THERE ARE ABOUT 90,000 households on the social housing waiting list nationally.

As part of its Rebuilding Ireland initiative, the government aims to build 25,000 homes a year by 2020 and provide 47,000 new social housing units, at a cost of over €5 billion.

Part of the plan includes using Nama-owned properties, usually unfinished apartment blocks and housing estates, to help provide more social housing.

Nama, the National Asset Management Agency, has identified almost 7,000 properties that are potentially suitable for social housing to date.

NAMA Source: Nama

As of the end of 2016, this figure stood at 6,941. Of this, demand was confirmed by local authorities for over 2,740 properties and 2,378 of these have been delivered for use.

The properties are taken on – purchased or leased on a long-term basis – by councils or approved housing bodies (AHBs), not-for-profit organisations, who make them livable. Some properties are almost ready to go, while others need more work.

Properties are usually rejected because there isn’t enough of a demand for social housing where they’re located.

Here, as part of its series on social housing, TheJournal.ie focuses on Galway city.

Each local authority has been given targets in terms of social housing and provisional funding has been allocated.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney recently told the Dáil Galway city and county councils have a target of 1,126 social housing units for the period out to 2017, supported by an allocation of €58.5 million to be invested in a combination of building, buying and leasing schemes.

No social housing has been built in Galway since 2009. Construction on houses expected to be completed by 2018 recently started. There are about 2,700 households on the city council’s housing waiting list.

As of the end of last month, 203 Nama-owned properties in Galway city had been identified as potentially suitable for social housing, with demand being confirmed for 202. Some 196 units have been completed or contracted for use.

galway nama Properties delivered to AHBs or local authorities as of the end of December 2016 Source: Nama

In a statement, a spokesperson for Nama told us: “Confirmation of demand and suitability of properties owned by Nama debtors is a matter for local authorities and is not something in which Nama has a role.

“Nama plays no role in determining the suitability of these properties and all engagement with local authorities is handled by the housing agency, not by Nama.

Once demand for a property has been confirmed by a local authority, Nama facilitates contact and negotiation between its debtor or receiver and the local authority or approved housing body to acquire the property. Contractual arrangements can take the form of a lease or purchase.

“In general, purchases are completed by AHBs and the properties acquired are then made available to local authorities under a payment and availability agreement.”

The spokesperson added that Nama has “made clear to the housing agencies and local authorities that any property handed over … would be fully remediated to the highest living standards and fully in compliance with all construction and buildings standards and in compliance with the conditions of planning and local authority regulations”.

To date, Nama has spent over €100 million on remediating homes for which local authorities or housing bodies have confirmed demand.

At the time of publication, Galway City Council had not responded to requests for comment. As of November, the council was spending over €25,000 a month on providing emergency accommodation.

Last week, Coveney said: “The government has set out ambitious targets for the delivery of social housing supports over the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland. Last year, over 18,300 social housing supports were provided across a range of delivery programmes.

“Within this, preliminary data show that around 5,280 new social houses were either purchased, leased, remediated or built by local authorities and approved housing bodies across the country using a range of funding mechanisms and delivery programmes.”

Cúirt Róisín 

Throughout the country, AHBs work with local authorities to provide social housing.

Clúid is the largest housing association in Ireland, providing almost 6,000 homes. It’s one of a number of AHBs working in Galway.

The organisation has provided 357 houses or apartments to people in Galway to date. A further 140 are planned to be delivered within the next two years.

TheJournal.ie recently visited Cúirt Róisín, a former Nama-owned apartment block in Galway city that is now home to 15 families and individuals.

Some of these people had been on the social housing list for 13 years, the average wait time was eight years. Four people were on notice to quits (meaning they had to move out of their previous home), and a similar number had been dealing with homelessness services in the city.

Clúid links up with the council and homelessness organisations to ensure people who require extra help to get back on their feet receive the support they need.

IMG_8045 John and Kathleen Source: Órla Ryan

Cúirt Róisín consists of two and one-bedroom apartments. Kathleen Aspell Mortimer, the property’s housing officer, says the latter are difficult to come by in the city, making this complex particularly suitable for individuals, single parents or small families.

Many of the residents had been living within a five-mile radius so their families are nearby and their children didn’t have to move schools. Some people’s previous apartments were flooded during the bad storms in winter 2015.

“It is much more than an apartment, it’s a home … It’s about what’s there after they move in – what kind of supports are available, what kind of neighbours are beside you.

“We make sure that it’s people who are suitable to the whole situation, to the area – people that are local, that have their family connections here, school connections. The support services that enable them to live,” Kathleen says.

IMG_8051 Source: Órla Ryan

John O’Sullivan, Clúid’s head of housing management, tells us: “Usually when we have a new scheme or we have empty units that come up, we ask the local authority for a list of nominations.

It’s obviously not any building or any estate or apartment block that would suit necessarily what we’re looking for. I suppose Clúid’s aim is to create sustainable and vibrant communities. That only really happens when it’s part of the community and it’s not at arm’s length from social networks and families and so on.

The Cúirt Róisín scheme is funded using a government loan to leverage a larger bank loan from the Housing Finance Agency. Clúid will repay these loans using the rent paid by tenants, which is based on each individual’s’ income, and a payment from the Department of the Environment.

Overall, it cost Clúid €1.3 million to buy and refurbish Cúirt Róisin (it was about 70% complete) and its adjacent car park.

Kathleen says it took around 18 months from Clúid first becoming involved with the property to getting residents in the door. People moved in in July and August 2016.

IMG_8050 Source: Órla Ryan

Clúid wants its social housing to be indistinguishable from other housing nearby, believing this helps counteract some of the challenges and misconceptions that arise around social housing.

Kathleen explains: “I think it’s important to the tenants – you know, that they’re not stigmatised.

Anyone who’s on the social housing list, they never started off their lives thinking they’d end up in social housing so, the fact that they did, they don’t want to be stigmatised over that.

“It’s important for us as well, from our point of view, that our housing is fitting in with everywhere else.”

John adds: “It’s good for the wider community that there’s decent quality housing. It’s good for the people who live here. High quality housing, affordable, manageable – it’s important that people treat the place really well when they’re given a really good product.

“For us that reinforces the sustainability of the long-term goal of creating communities instead of transient housing.”

Both agree with Rebuilding Ireland’s approach of creating mixed developments of social and private housing.

John states: “It’s something that works well. I think this is a really good example of somewhere where we’ve worked well with Nama to bring something that was empty for seven or eight years back to the market in a way that’s sustainable.”

In terms of tackling the lack of social housing in a broader sense, he adds: “It’s a big task and one that will take time, but ultimately I suppose, between the social housing sector, the AHBs like ourselves and voluntary associations across the board … We’re all working together to try to resolve it.

“There is momentum, there is forward progress. You can see, when schemes like this are happening, that work is being done and it’s good to see it coming around.”

More features on social housing will be published on TheJournal.ie during the week.

Read: Over 80% of rents are above limits set for those on state housing benefits

Read: Remember the developers who ‘exited Nama’? Most paid less than half their debts

Read: Thousands taken off social housing list for not replying to questionnaire

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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