The housing strategy (Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness) launched by Simon Coveney T.D., Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, is ambitious and absolutely critical. We are all too keenly aware of the housing crisis which we face, including the struggles faced by young people in trying to buy their own homes, the rapid rise in rental prices particularly in urban areas, the thousands of people who find themselves in a long queue for social housing and indeed the stark increase in homelessness and people living in long-term emergency accommodation.
While there are many positive measures in the report, the announcement of the provision of 47,000 social housing units by 2021, at a cost of €5.35 billion, is particularly welcomed and is a very significant move in tackling the huge challenges which are faced in this area.
Credit unions affiliated to the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) have in excess of €8.5bn held in surplus funds. It is a long held aspiration of the credit union movement to be able to use these funds in a way that is both more sustainable and socially aware. To this end, the provision by credit unions of funding for social housing is a key policy platform of the Irish League of Credit Unions and one which we have raised repeatedly with Government and other key stakeholders.
This housing report is the most far reaching in terms of its expected outcomes but it is not the first. It is one thing to have the political will to address the unacceptable situation of homelessness and people living in long term emergency accommodation. It is another to develop an appropriate funding mechanism to make these desired developments a reality.
In June 2016, the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness made a number of priority recommendations including that Government should establish an off-balance sheet funding mechanism for social housing and should seek to mobilise as quickly as possible, all possible sources of funding, including funding from the Irish League of Credit Unions.
The ILCU welcomes the commitment in the Action Plan regarding the “..establishment of an Innovation Fund to support the development by AHBs (Approved Housing Bodies) of innovative financial models..” and that “Support will be provided from this Fund to an Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH)/ sector-led new special purpose vehicle, involving investors, including the credit union movement”.
By enabling the allocation of some surplus funds to social housing, the credit union movement could go a long way towards meeting the Government’s funding requirement of €5.35 billion. The key benefit for the Government of this proposition would be that this would enable the Government Strategy to be fulfilled over short, medium and long term time-horizons. Credit unions could become a significant funder of the social housing strategy.
The key benefit for the population as a whole is obvious; the creation of a sustainable supply of social housing opportunities for those in need. And for credit unions, it would provide a modest return, while enabling excess funds to be used in a method which is core to the ethos of credit unions, to directly support people and communities to meet their social and financial needs. Furthermore, the ILCU believes that if the provision of funds by credit unions for social housing proves to be workable, it could perhaps be used as a template for investing funds in other social or community initiatives.
The report notes that good housing anchors strong communities. As credit union members the length and breadth of the country will testify, local credit unions can also help to anchor the communities which they serve, providing critical financial services to all on a not-for-profit basis. Credit unions stand ready and willing to assist in helping to solve the huge social housing issues which the country faces.