Why Are None of the First Affordable Cost-Rental Homes in Dublin City?

None of the first round of 390 affordable rentals funded with help from a government loan scheme will be in the Dublin City Council area.

“No proposals were submitted from [approved housing bodies] for the Dublin City Council area,” a spokesperson for the Housing Agency, which administers the Cost Rental Equity Loan (CREL) scheme, said last week.

The tight window for proposals and delivery once the scheme was announced and uncertainty at the time around the finer details around the cost-rental model are two reasons why, say those working for approved housing bodies (AHBs). (The CREL scheme is for AHBs.)

Clúid Housing has announced two cost-rental schemes so far, one in Balbriggan – where more than 1,000 people applied for the 25 homes – and one in Cork.

Clúid is looking to do projects in the capital, says Fiona Cormican, its new business director. But it just hasn’t happened yet.

“We’re negotiating now for a cost-rental project in the middle of Dublin city,” she says. In the future in the city, though, Clúid wants to develop the homes itself – rather than buy as they did in Balbriggan – and so access to land is key, she said.

The Scheme

In mid-December 2020, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien, of Fianna Fáil, announced the CREL scheme, a pot of money to help AHBs – which are not-for-profit housing charities – to fund cost-rental homes.

Under the scheme, the state makes long-term loans “on favourable terms” to AHBs to cover up to 30 percent of the cost of building or buying the new cost-rental homes.

Cost-rental is a model by which rents cover financing, building and managing homes – and so should come out cheaper to rent than market rates. Under Ireland’s version of this model, rents can also include, controversially, a bit of profit.

In round one, there was €35 million available from the CREL scheme.

AHBs had until 5 January to submit projects, says the call for proposals. At least half of the homes needed to be delivered this year, it said.

Projects were judged on criteria that, among other factors, took into account where they would be. Proposals in the “Dublin City and Suburbs” area were given a bump in points.

Eight projects won funding. The Department of Housing hasn’t published exactly where all the eight projects are yet. But a couple have been announced.

In July, Clúid launched 25 cost-rental homes – terraced and semi-detached houses – at Taylor Hill in Balbriggan. Rents for a two-bed house have been set at €935 a month.

In August, Clúid also announced plans for 73 cost-rental homes in Cork city at Lancaster Gate, where one-beds would be €990 a month and two-beds would be €1,100.

Helen McCormack, communications manager with Respond, another AHB, said it had three schemes approved for funding through CREL – two in the Fingal County Council area and one in the Cork City Council area.

The Department [of Housing] spokesperson said they weren’t able to comment on the specifics of projects, including locations, “until the AHBs involved have completed necessary financial and contractual arrangements”.

Why Outside the City?

Between the start of 2016 and 2021, average standardised rents in Dublin city rose from €1,265 to €1,724, shows Residential Tenancies Board data.

While some people working at AHBs say they’re hanging back a little to see how others get on with cost-rentals, others give a few reasons as to why the city, despite its deepening affordability crisis, was left out of pitches.

That schemes had to be delivered quickly was one reason.

“We could only put forward developments that were available to us so we did not make any proposals for Dublin City Council,” said McCormack, the communications manager with Respond.

Cormican, the new business director with Clúid, said also that AHBs didn’t quite know what to expect from the CREL and cost-rental schemes when they put in applications.

Given that uncertainty, it was easier to convince developers to hold developments for them outside of the city than inside, where it’s more competitive, says Cormican. (In other words, to convince them not to sell to others while the AHB applied for the scheme.)

Where From Here?

McCormack says Respond hasn’t really looked at the detail of providing cost-rental in the city yet. “We do plan to explore the potential to do so over the coming years.”

Cormican, of Clúid, says it is looking at it and already considering several issues when looking at where to build.

In some areas within Dublin, they might struggle to buy or develop homes at a price that would give affordable rents for ordinary people, she says. “Like Ballsbridge, Foxrock.”

They also have to be careful that they don’t build in places where rents could drop below the cost rents, leaving AHBs struggling to rent them out, she says. “Then, we’ll have a real problem.”

After all, the CREL loan has to be paid back, as does the 70 percent they borrow from elsewhere, she says. “We carry all the risk.”

While, under CREL, AHBs can buy new homes to use as cost-rentals, Clúid wants to get land and build homes themselves, she says.

“Getting access to land is difficult”, she says, but if they get that, they’ll be “very happy” to develop mixed social-housing and cost-rental schemes.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that, after the first successful call-out, it will continue to engage with all parties “about the most efficient ways in which Cost Rental roll-out in urban population centres across the country can be best supported”.

Also, CREL is only one scheme for supporting cost-rental that the department has, the spokesperson said.

“The Land Development Agency will be working both in its own right and with our local authorities to deliver affordable homes for purchase and cost rental at scale,” said the spokesperson.

And they pointed to plans for cost-rental homes on council land at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, and the infrastructure grants available to subsidise rents for cost-rental projects like this on public land.

It has been almost five years since the plan to redevelop the site was announced, and about three since then Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy announced that it would include a cost-rental element.

But it’s likely to be at least 2023 before a tender is put out for a builder, a council spokesperson said last year.

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Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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