Keeping it social
FIONA CORMICAN, New Business Director, Clúid Housing, speaks with Barry McCall about how the social housing delivery model has changed in recent years and calls for more joined-up thinking between stakeholders around building social housing.
Despite the Covid lockdowns, Clúid Housing has continued to make a significant contribution to the government’s social housing target.
With a pipeline of 3,000 homes, Clúid Housing is one of Ireland’s largest approved housing bodies (AHBs). Founded in 1994, the organisation now has over 8,300 properties under management. Clúid focuses on delivering social housing solutions to those on local authority housing lists.
Fiona Cormican, New Business Director, Clúid Housing, says that the body is committed to providing quality housing and services that enable people to create homes and thriving communities. “There are 12 or 13 large AHBs in Ireland, and Clúid is one of the largest. We deliver a lot of new builds. In fact, 96% of our pipeline is new build, so we are increasing supply all of the time.”
St Mary’s Mansion’s, a €23m redevelopment by Clúid Housing in Dublin’s north-east inner city.
Clúid Housing model
Clúid built 675 homes last year, despite Covid, and it has another 3,000 in the pipeline to be delivered in 2021 and 2022. “We built 800 in 2019 and aim to build 1,000 this year, depending on lockdowns,” Cormican adds. “We have a robust pipeline for the next few years.”
Clúid’s residents are people who were on housing lists.
“We work in partnership with local authorities to provide social housing for people on their housing lists.”
The rental model can vary according to the resident’s means and includes cost rental. Allocation is decided by the local authority for social housing or the AHB involved for cost rental. In some cases where demand is high, a lottery can be run as long as all the people entered to qualify for the cost rental scheme.
The Clúid model is somewhat different to many of the other approved housing bodies (AHBs).
“We are focused on owning our properties,” Cormican explains. “There is an awful lot more involved in owning the homes than leasing them for a period of time. We are focused on quality. The lifetime cost and value of the homes and their carbon footprint are very important to us. We also have a big focus on creating sustainable communities where people can be proud to live.”
The long term view is critical in light of Clúid’s financial model.
Clúid’s Dún Sí, Fingal development was delivered as a Part V scheme in partnership with Quintain.
Financing social housing
“In 2011, we saw a real change in how AHBs are financed,” she points out. “Capital grants from the state were phased out, and debt finance was phased in. We had a lot of learning to do in a short space of time, but the AHBs managed to do this very well.” That new arrangement sees the government back Clúid and other AHBs with ‘soft’ 30-year loans to meet 30% of their capital expenditure needs. The AHBs raised the balance on the private credit markets. The government support has the effect of de-risking the private debt finance and enables the organisations to negotiate more favourable terms.
That model brings certain pressures with it.
“When you are using debt finance, you don’t want voids. You want to build places where people want to live. Our focus is on neighbourhoods and communities, not just houses. Our residents’ voice is also very important to us. We listen to residents on what they want from their homes and communities, and we do our best to respond quickly.”
That requires a thoughtful approach.
“We try to make the best use of land. We put foundations in place that are built to last and mature. We try to future proof all of our developments and promote active and healthy lifestyles within them. Nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEB) has been our policy for the past four or five years. This is part of promoting better lives.”
These policies bring a degree of personal satisfaction.
“The policies make Clúid Housing a great place to work. It’s also a fascinating place to work. We are constantly thinking about people, not profit. That doesn’t mean that we don’t focus on value for money. It’s all about securing the best price and providing houses in the best locations possible. We are a non-profit organisation, but we operate in a commercially viable and sustainable way, which will allow us to continue providing good quality housing and services for generations to come.”
Working with developers and builders
In so far as is possible, Clúid develops its own schemes. However, there are occasions when the organisation will purchase from developers.
“We try to achieve a balance between the two. We develop a lot of houses, and we are a big player in the market,” says Cormican. “What we do has a huge impact.”
Clúid introduced an attractive proposition for small to mid-sized developers in 2017. It sees Clúid purchase a development and pay staged payments during construction.
“We will do this if we like what they are building,” she says. “It gives us control of quality on site, and it’s great for the developers as they don’t have to finance the development while it’s on site.”
Clúid will typically work with smaller organisations that are building 20 to 40 houses at a time, but it also works with larger developers on large mixed-tenure schemes.
Fiona Cormican explains: “Working with smaller organisations helps create local employment, as those builders are buying from local suppliers. Building for us allows them to free up resources to build new houses for the private market. So, we are not only delivering social housing but helping the private market as well.”
A collaborative approach
Looking to the future, Fiona Cormican believes there several measures that could smooth the delivery of social and affordable housing.
“More collaboration is always the way forward,” she says. “A lot of stakeholders are involved in the social housing process, and a more structured framework for collaboration would be very helpful,” she concludes.