It was a sunny morning in Dublin and an ideal morning to bring together some of the country’s experts in the residential property market. As the City of Dublin and neighbouring regions continue to thrive and grow, affordability and creating sustainable, mixed-use, mixed-income communities become a greater challenge. Local Authority Social Housing Outputs and Delivery Targets 2018-2021, identifies the capacity for 33,500 new build homes and a strategic plan to make 50,000 of those affordable homes available by 2021. Are these plans feasible? 

Bisnow and some experienced industry panelists took an in-depth look at the state of the private and social housing market, and the intricacies involved in financing these development. The early morning event was positioned to hear from those who are pushing the boundaries of affordable housing, placemaking and community solutions. 

PANEL 1- ‘Viability and Affordability – how to win the game’

The first panel of the day included, Michael O’Flynn, Chairman & CEO of the O’Flynn Group, John O’Connor, CEO of the Housing Agency Ireland, Bronagh D’arcy, Deputy CEO of Tuath Housing and Clark McCann, Partner at Castlehaven Finance with Pat Farrell, CEO of Irish Institutional Property ably moderating the panel discussion. The topic of discussion was ‘Viability and Affordability – how to win the game’ and discussions began with Pat saying, “this is a timely and topical conference”. He spoke about the Dail, only a few 100 metres away and the vote of no confidence facing our current Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy (which was later defeated). 

Michael O’Flynn, CEO and Chairman of the O’Flynn Group began by clarifying that there is “no mystery” in the shortage of supply with constrainments and affordability changing residential housing. He mentioned how many people don’t appear to understand buying land for a reasonable profit is the only sustainable form of private development. 

Bronagh D’arcy, Deputy CEO of Tuath talked about how couples can’t afford to buy or even save towards homes as private rents are too high. Tuath Housing is a not-for-profit approved housing body, providing long-term, quality social housing.The organisation currently has over 5,300 homes under management and is active in every county throughout Ireland. Tuath is the fastest growing and most innovative housing agency with plans to deliver 7,000 new social homes by 2021. 

John O’Connor, CEO of the Housing Agency Ireland spoke about what is needed to close the affordability gap and the importance of fully understanding the breakdown of current housing demand. He relayed statistics to the audience including how one out of four homes in Ireland is a ‘one off’ and typically homes have 1-2 people living in them. John placed importance on the need for higher density and sustainable housing while mentioning the need to incentivise apartment living. 

One of the most relevant yet stark contributions came from Clark McCann, Partner at Castlehaven Finance when he spoke about the excessive delays caused by Irish Water. He relayed case studies where his organisation successfully financed a development, the building team delivered these homes (which buyers and investors want) yet the conveyances cannot be fully completed due to delays in water connection – this is simply unacceptable during a housing shortage. 

The panel talked about the new Land Development Agency and how it ought to help address some of the issues identified but that more needs to be done in order to bring down the delivery costs. Discussions led to the agreement that the industry had suffered rough times and how innovation (like adopting MMC) is difficult to implement when most companies are struggling to pay wages and bills. Michael O’Flynn expressed a view that modular construction will only be cheaper if scale is achieved. There  will be “no savings anytime soon” according to the CEO of the O’Flynn Group, unless delivery ramps up significantly. 

PANEL 2 –‘Residential transformation, diversification and repositioning’

The next panel of the morning was moderated by Sabrina Mackin, Director of Arcadis with panelists Richard Ball, Partner at Urbeo Residential, Patrick Phelan, Director of Corporate Finance at Ballymore and Niall O Donnabhain, Senior Planner at Cork County Council. The theme of this panel discussion was ‘Residential transformation, diversification and repositioning’. The panel discussed the what, why and how of housing with some experienced insights into the need to change. The main challenge is the sheer complexity of housing. Innovation was another topic of discussion with the panel discussing the costs regarding innovation and forward-thinking strategy implementation. Moderator, Sabrina Mackin mentioned an article she read in Forbes about NIMBYism and how the recent Property Industry Awards noted the need to have more clarity and stability in the sector. Planning was another subject the panel touched on with much tweaking needed in the planning system and the need to find a schemes voice. One frustration mentioned was how deals take longer (with more requests for further information) and this makes the process a lot more convoluted. 

The morning wrapped up with some networking and conversation was flowing as those from the industry shared their own personal insights about the discussions. It was a great event and once again thank you to the Bisnow team for an insightful and informative morning of expert analysis and discussions. 

Originally published on Property District.

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