Read “Approved Housing Body buying the entire new Sarsfield Heights estate” in the Sunday Business Post

Darragh O’Brien, the Minister for Housing: visited the site at Sarsfield Heights estate which is now at the centre of a controversy over its acquisition by an affordable housing body. Picture: Getty

Sarsfield Heights is the new development under construction by developers, O’Brien & O’Flynn, at the entrance to Eagle Valley (Sarsfield Heights location) The developers got the planning permission greenlight to build Sarsfield Heights on the premise that 6 units would be for social housing and 63 units would go on the open market to the starved private sector in an area where there is gross undersupply of new builds. Instead Respond, an approved housing body, is purchasing the entire estate for social housing leasing in an arrangement with Cork City Council where the Tenancies will be offered exclusively to applicants on Cork City Council’s housing list, the Choice Based Letting System. For more information, please login to the Eagle Valley Members Portal and go to Forums in the menu

Local anger over affordable housing body buying entire estate

Respond bought all 69 houses estate in Cork suburb for social housing, but residents’ association says action is ‘locking out’ individual buyers
Michael Brennan
19th November 2022
The Business Post

A residents’ association has complained that an affordable housing body is “locking out” individual private home buyers by buying an entire housing estate.

Respond, a housing association, received state funding to purchase all 69 homes in the Sarsfield Heights estate, which is currently under construction in the Cork city suburb of Wilton, for social housing.

Darragh O’Brien, the Minister for Housing, has visited the site, which has been hailed as an example of the publicly funded homes that will be delivered to tackle the housing crisis.

But a local residents’ association has complained that people in the area had been hoping to buy the homes themselves before Respond moved in. The Eagle Valley Association told the Business Post that Respond’s purchase of the entire estate was “locking out” first time buyers, such as long-term renters with families growing up in the area.

“Other residents have children who have grown up in the area and now want to buy near to home as first-time buyers. Others still are downsizers,” it said in a statement.

The group has also warned that with over 70 per cent of the 301 houses in the Eagle Valley area already in the rental sector, the opportunity to rebalance the area with more owner occupiers is “significantly undermined”.

It has also warned that having a “mono social housing estate” in the area is contrary to the government’s own policy of having a housing mix of owner occupiers, renters and social housing. However, it said that its members were not objecting to social housing.

“This is not a case of ‘Nimby’ – not in my back yard. Many estates in the Sarsfield Road/Wilton area have a number of social houses that are appropriately pepper-potted throughout the estates and in line with the planning policies for mixed tenure for sustainable communities,” it said.

Niamh Randall, the spokeswoman for Respond, said it had purchased the Sarsfield Heights site and funded the construction of the entire 69 homes through a fixed-price agreement with O’Brien O’Flynn, the construction firm.

“The scheme would not be built without this partnership, and the participation of Respond,” she said.

Respond has secured tenants for the first 22 homes from Cork City Council’s waiting list. Randall said many of them come from the immediate area and have been waiting many years for a home.

“Phase two and phase three of this scheme are scheduled for delivery between late January and March 2023,” she said.

Randall said that Respond was working hard to deliver much needed social homes during the ongoing housing and homeless crisis. “We actively work to destigmatise social housing through the provision of high-quality housing, professional tenancy management and providing a range of support services,” she said.

The latest social housing update from the government shows that Respond’s purchase of the 69 homes in the Sarsfield Heights estate is being funded under the state’s capital advance leasing facility. This fund provides up to 30 per cent of the funding for the project, with affordable housing bodies raising the remaining 70 per cent of the finance themselves.

The estate is being built by O’Brien & O’Flynn Ltd, a construction firm which has built thousands of homes in Cork since the mid-1970s.

The Eagle Valley Association has lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála under section five of the Planning Act, arguing that the decision to sell the housing estate to Respond for social housing represents a change of use to its “mixed tenure” planning permission. An Bord Pleanála is expected to issue its decision next month.The government is relying on affordable housing bodies like Respond to help it to deliver its target of 9,500 new-build homes on average each year.

Last month, the Business Post reported how Fingal County Council had told investors that it would not be leasing any more houses from them in 33 private estates because they were deemed to be “areas socially satisfied” due to the high number of state-supported tenancies in place.

Funds told that council will not lease more homes in 33 north Dublin estates

Estate agents and property investors informed that 33 estates in north Dublin are ‘socially satisfied’ and therefore not eligible
Fingal County Council issued a document last year which said that 33 private estates were deemed to be “areas socially satisfied” due to the high number of state-supported tenancies in place. Picture: Rollingnews

Estate agents and property investment funds have been advised that certain housing estates in north Dublin will not be considered for further social home leases due to the high concentration already found in the developments.

Fingal County Council issued a document last year which said that 33 private estates were deemed to be “areas socially satisfied” due to the high number of state-supported tenancies in place, and so would not be considered for future social housing leases.

The Business Post has reported previously that property investment funds spent close to €1 billion buying second-hand homes in 2021, with many acquired with the intention of being leased to local authorities for use as social housing.

The list of estates shared by Fingal County Council with agents in August 2021, and seen by this newspaper, include developments in Malahide, Portmarnock, Swords, Skerries, Santry and Kinsealy.

The private estates have a high number of state-supported tenancies through the long-term leasing scheme, the rental accommodation scheme (RAS) and the housing assistance payment (HAP).

Property owners who lease homes to the council for 20 to 30 years can secure guaranteed lease payments at 80 per cent of the market rate, with the homes also managed by the council.

A spokesman for Fingal County Council said the long-term leasing scheme was now being phased out, as per government housing policy. “As a result, Fingal ceased accepting new leasing proposals under this scheme in September 2021,” the spokesman said.

When asked if the Department of Housing had set any limits or thresholds for how many units in a private estate could be leased for social housing, the spokesman said the council “takes cognisance of relevant government guidance in providing social housing that supports the development of sustainable communities”.

This newspaper asked the other three local authorities in Dublin if they also maintained a list of “areas socially satisfied”.

A spokeswoman for South Dublin County Council said: “The council assesses all opportunities for additional social housing on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the existing social housing accommodation and supports provided, as well as the prevailing social housing demand for accommodation in the area.”

Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said they did not maintain a list similar to the “areas socially satisfied” document.