The Housing Practitioners Conference, organised by the Housing Agency and the Institute of Public Administration, was a 2-day event in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.
The event included speakers from the Scottish Government, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Housing Agency, LSE London, the Irish Council for Social Housing, Dublin City Council, Tuath Housing, the Residential Tenancies Board, Douglas Newman Good and Campbell Tickell.
There was an option to attend one of a number of workshops, including;
- Improved Delivery through Enhanced Coordination between LAs and AHBs
- Finding the right public procurement option for building social housing
- Private Sector renting, key facts for HAP and RAS teams
- Using land and progressing Mixed-Use Developments
- Leasing including Enhanced Leasing
- What do the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) mean for Housing Practitioners
The workshop on ‘Using land and progressing Mixed-Use Developments’ included a presentation from Jim Baneham from the Housing Agency, and Peter Gavican from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The topic of affordable purchase housing was discussed, with legislation on same, based on the relevant provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, to be commenced sometime within the next couple of weeks.
The Regeneration and Development Agency which will facilitate the ringfencing of land for housing will assist in these efforts.
The National Development Finance Agency will also be of assistance in this regard. In relation to funding for infrastructure, it was announced that a second tranche of LIHAF funding is due to be rolled out shortly. A cost-rental housing project, currently being piloted by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, was also discussed.
The workshop was followed by a presentation from Kath Scanlon, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow in LSE, who outlined a comparison of Ireland’s social housing system with systems across Europe, including the Netherlands, Scotland, Austria, and the UK.
Perhaps of most interest were her points in relation to the link between tenant income and rents in Ireland (our differential rent system). This is unique among European countries.
Also of significance is the fact that all new social housing construction in the UK is being undertaken by housing associations.
The ‘Right to Buy’ may also be extended to housing associations in the UK. In addition, Spain, notably, has a tiny amount of social rented accommodation. Instead, subsidies are provided to owner-occupiers.
However, Scanlon feels it is most logical and sustainable to subsidise housing as opposed to people, as we do in Ireland, and in many other parts of Europe.
Scanlon also highlighted an increasing reliance on private funding across Europe, significantly so in the Netherlands. She stressed, however, the importance of management of financial risk in such circumstances, citing the recent case of failed derivative speculation by a finance director of a housing association in the Netherlands.
Other discussions throughout the conference touched upon the following issues:
- Innovation within the mid-market section of the population in Scotland, with loans to non-public sector organisations
- Skills and labour shortages within the construction sector in Ireland
- The definition of affordability – in the UK affordability is defined as just below market rates, whereas in other countries it can be represented by a percentage of income – usually between 30 and 35%.
- EU competition law and aspects relating to ‘state aid’ – cases brought against social landlords in Sweden and the Netherlands. The EU ruled that housing in receipt of state subsidies must be provided only to low-income households. In the Netherlands, this resulted in a complete overhaul of their structure, whereby the state paid a lump sum to the housing associations, on the basis that this would constitute its final payment.
- Stigma around social housing – it tends not to be prominent in countries where social housing comprises a mix of incomes.
- The importance of community development, alongside housing, in terms of sustaining tenancies, thereby reducing costs.
- The importance of management and communication efficiencies in terms of reducing relet times. Monaghan County Council presented on this issue, highlighting centralised filing systems, a paperless office approach, and improved communication between housing officers and admin staff as key to their success in this regard.