Changing Perceptions:
Stigma and Social Housing in Ireland

Introduction 

Deputy Lord Mayor; Chair of Clúid, Fiona Barron; Clúid CEO, Brian O’Gorman; Oireachtas colleagues, Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here this morning at the launch of this important piece of research commissioned by Clúid: “Changing Perceptions: Stigma and Social Housing in Ireland”, carried out by Dr. Michelle Norris, Dr. Michael Byrne and Anna Carnegie of the School of Social Policy and Social Justice at UCD.

I very much welcome this report. The report finds that, while the stigmatisation of social housing tenants unfortunately does exist, planned measures can be taken to address stigma in existing developments and to avoid it attaching to new developments.

The report provides support for my Department’s policy that social housing should be delivered, not by way of large mono-tenure estates, but by ensuring as far as possible, that new social housing is provided in mixed tenure developments, properly integrated with private residential schemes which will foster sustainable communities. This is the overriding approach which we are taking in the development of new social housing units under Rebuilding Ireland.

Rebuilding Ireland 

The Government’s vision for social housing is very clear:  Rebuilding Ireland sets out an ambitious trajectory for the delivery of new supply out to 2021. Local authorities and AHBs have been tasked with delivering 47,000 additional social units in that period.

Success will require a blended delivery that involves harnessing the best housing possible given stock availability and achieving the best value for money within the financial resources available to Government. A range of delivery mechanisms are operating in parallel. It’s about building, buying, leasing and maximising the use of existing properties – rental and vacant.

I have announced a range of new schemes and delivery mechanisms to achieve this, for example the new Repair and Leasing Scheme which will bring at least 3,500 currently vacant units into social housing use over the next number of years.

This week, Minister O’Donohoe and I announced €226 million in investment by way of the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund that is being used to target big infrastructural projects – large road, bridges and drainage projects – across local authorities that will free up development and facilitate the delivery around 23,000 new housing units by 2021. Under Part V, at least 10% of these units will be social housing but in some projects it will be a much higher proportion.

In addition to the effective Part V mechanism to deliver Social Housing as part of a mixed tenure integrated development, my Department is also working with local authorities to develop appropriate delivery mechanisms for mixed tenure developments.   I can give as an example the agreement on O’Devaney Gardens, where Dublin City Council is currently engaged in progressing a large mixed tenure residential development in a very attractive area of the city, which will see social rental, affordable rental and privately owned housing developed together.

In the context of the delivery of the targets for social housing, I am very clear that AHBs have a significant contribution to make. Their experience of working within communities; supporting households with specific needs, including homeless households; being good landlords, as well as procuring and managing renovation works; working together with local authorities to turn around unfinished housing estates; and making use of the NAMA portfolio of assets, will be critical to achieving success.

Our estimation is that AHBs have the capacity to contribute around a third of the 47,000 new social housing units that are targeted over the period to 2021 using a range of delivery methods.

To support this, I have secured almost €1 billion of capital funding so that AHBs can build and acquire new social housing units. This funding will be made available over the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland through my Department’s Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) and the Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF).

Another almost €1 billion in current funding (under the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme – SHCEP) has been secured for the cost of Payment and Availability Agreements (P&A) and leases over the lifetime of the Action Plan.

The Government is also committed to a range of other structural, funding and policy supports to increase AHB delivery. These supports include an Innovation Fund, multi-year financing, a One Stop Shop for procurement advice and support. The establishment of a regulator for the sector, on a statutory basis, will also be a key step in its continued evolution and rationalisation. 

Cluid Housing Association 

I note that Clúid, our host today, is one the largest approved housing bodies operating in the country, with almost 6,000 units, providing homes for families, older persons, and specific traveller accommodation.

Cluid, like other AHBs, has embraced our ambitious targets head on and is working hard across the country to build a strong pipeline for the construction and acquisition of new high-quality social homes. I am also pleased that my Department has been in a position to support Clúid in its work over the years through the Capital Assistance Scheme, the Capital Advance Leasing Facility and the Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme.

Funding in excess of €38 million has been approved by the Department for Cluid under the Capital Assistance Scheme for the provision of over 200 units of accommodation since May 2014.  I also note that over €17m has been advanced to Clúid under the Capital Advance Leasing Facility since 2009; this funding represents 640 units which have been delivered and are operational and an additional 950 units which have been approved for funding and are in the pipeline.

Over recent years, Cluid in particular have moved from a traditional grant funded model to greater use of loan finance – adopting more risk – financial and construction, and I commend the board of Cluid for leading the way in this respect.

Cluid also have an excellent track record in supporting the progress of new delivery schemes and innovations, for example, Cluid are the highest performing AHB when it comes to engaging with the Mortgage to Rent Scheme – and as a result nearly 200 families have remained in their home thanks to Cluid, with many more cases in train.

Cluid are also working closely with the Housing Agency in the context of the Agency’s acquisition of portfolios of vacant properties. This collaboration will be a critical if we are to achieve the accelerated delivery of new social homes, in particular, in the Dublin area – where we know there is an acute need to address unacceptable level of family homelessness. I fully anticipate that Clúid will continue its vital role in the provision of social housing in this country and with the support of my Department. 

Lessons from Stigma Research 

As I said at the outset, today’s report is a welcome confirmation of Departmental policy and is fully consistent with international experience but it is good to have this confirmed in terms of Irish examples and specific research.

The report also identifies important lessons to inform layout and detail design in pursuing this policy, and in part for local authorities assessing the merits of particular proposals for social housing under the Part V process.  Particular points of interest include:

  • Even in mixed tenure developments, there is a strong sense that physical demarcation of different tenure types is not advisable, and there is a preference for dispersal of social housing units across the development;
  • There should be an equality of access to the specific amenities in a development, avoiding locating the social housing in the least desirable part of the scheme, or with unequal access for instance to shared parking spaces;
  • The provision and design of common areas and play areas are important considerations in mixed tenure developments;
  • The traditional community centres formerly provided in Social Housing areas are unlikely to attract privately owning or private rental residents, and of more attraction are more specialised facilities such as crèches and gyms;
  • The range of social housing provision must in itself to be more varied and rather than the traditional three bed homes catering for families with children, should more closely reflect the current national demographics with more provision for single person or two person households.

Whilst many of these provisions are informally encouraged by my Department in its review of social housing proposals by local authorities, and in the review of Part V proposals, it is of great assistance to see these approaches validated by this very welcome research.

The report concludes that stigmatisation of social housing tenants does arise, and can be a serious concern for some residents of social housing estates.

However, it is appropriate to applaud the report’s conclusion that it is possible to make a difference in reducing social housing stigma in existing developments and that, whilst not in every instance 100% successful, our regeneration programmes have positively impacted on families and communities.

This has been achieved by improved permeability and attempting to better link previously isolated social housing developments back into the surrounding neighbourhood and also by investment in cultural facilities to engage the far wider community.

The research indicates that the biggest challenge for regeneration is in attracting sufficient private residential developments to provide a better tenure mix, and thus de-stigmatise the neighbourhood. This is a particular insight we need to be very mindful of, to guide interventions in further regeneration efforts.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I can assure you that my Department will continue to support the regeneration of social housing developments within our towns and cities with a view to reducing and if possible eliminating stigma and, in this context, the findings of this report are extremely helpful.

Again, I would like to thank you for inviting me here today to launch this important and timely piece of research and I would like to commend the authors for their work.

THANK YOU

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