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Circle VHA housing in Balbriggan Circle VHA

Not-for-profit housing association seeing 'huge difficulty' in delivering affordable apartments

Circle VHA will add an additional 1,500 homes to its portfolio and its CEO has said it could do more.

THE HEAD OF one of the country’s approved housing bodies (AHBs) has said it is seeing a “huge difficulty” in the delivery of affordable apartments to help ease the housing crisis.

Circle Voluntary Housing Association (VHA) has 2,000 homes across the country, and said plans to add an additional 1,500 to its portfolio over the next four years. 

Speaking to The Journal, CEO John Hannigan said the association is directly building many homes itself, with four active construction sites which are due to deliver 350 homes next year and in 2023. 

“We recognise there’s a crisis that needs to be dealt with,” he said. 

He said the biggest challenge in delivering affordable homes is the cost of land.

“It’s not actually the building costs – they’ve moved a bit in the last few months because of inflation but the biggest cost by far is land. And we’re finding there is huge competition as well.”

He also said the association is “seeing huge difficulties in the delivery of apartments” that are affordable. 

In Dublin City in particular there is a significant demand for affordable one and two-bed apartments and this is one of the areas of focus for Circle.

Hannigan, who was speaking at the launch of a tenant engagement and communication strategy, questioned whether the government recognises that not-for-profit organisations can play a significant role in addressing the housing crisis.

“We’ve got six to ten really big organisations that can do an awful lot more,” he told The Journal.

He said the government’s Housing for All plan, while a positive step, lacked the detail those working in the sector need to understand “what the real plan is”.

“While they talk about our sector in very positive terms, we only get mentioned five times in the whole 160 pages,” he said.

“So you’d have to wonder whether or not they’re really thinking about us as part of the real solution. I know the Land Development Agency gets talked about quite a bit, which is great, but actually it’s about land aggregation and building homes.

“That’s only one part because the other part is equally important – how you let them, how you manage them, how you ensure the tenants get what they need over the next 30, 40, 50 years.”

He said that while there is a place for the private sector, approved housing bodies have “a a real focus on solving the crisis and continuing that over the next 30 years without thinking about walking away”.

‘We were in dire need’

April Gregg and Gerry Fleming, who are both tenants and members of the newly established Tenant Advisory Group (TAG), said the agency had provided them with housing during difficult times in their lives. 

Gregg said the apartment building in which she was initially housed by Circle had security and she received home visits from the association’s staff at the beginning of her tenancy, which she said helped her to feel safe in her new home.

Fleming has been a Circle tenant for around 12 months, having previously spent ten years renting the same property from a private landlord.

He suffered a stroke in 2019 and also suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). When he struggled to pay his rent his landlord of ten years told him he would have to move out and he ended up living in his car for ten days before Circle intervened. 

“Both of us were in dire need when we got housing,” Gregg said.

“I was at one of my lowest points in life and with Circle we got out of that,” she said. “To be given a secure, warm home and a roof over your head and told you have a tenancy officer, someone to ring to talk to  to get help when you have issues, it makes such a difference.”

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