Yesterday morning on KFM I was asked my thoughts re the new semi-state body proposed to drive the delivery of social housing. Many people were surprised that I was broadly supportive of this power being removed from Councils- but I have my reasons! I attach the interview below and include some of the arguments articulated, below.
My experience of local authority housing is that it is slow, inefficient and ineffective. It lacks transparency and accountability and therefore, possibly fairness in its allocations, especially when outsourced to Approved Housing Bodies to deliver ( Approved Housing Bodies may have political representatives on boards. This is particularly worrying where the Approved Housing Body attracts 25% nomination rights for providing just 5% of the funding themselves).
Kildare County Council planned to deliver 1283 social houses between 2015 and 2017 with the €86million allocated to them. It hasn’t achieved half of that and fails regularly to give adequate responses to elected representatives as to why progress is so slow.
Arguments in favour of for setting up new semi-state body
1) A national body with a singular focus could be more efficient than a local authority with multiple functions and remits. It could deal more effectively with national obstacles to the provision of housing e.g. negotiations with NAMA, addressing the impact of the cost of construction on the delivery of housing
2) Oversight by Local Authorities of Approved Housing Bodies, the main method of delivering social housing locally, is a concern. Approved Housing Bodies will be getting the bulk of the 86m allocated to Kildare County Council to deliver housing. There is little transparency and less accountability around AHBs e.g.
• The Council have refused to provide contact details for the external Chair of the Council’s Audit Committee to me so that I may communicate a number of governance concerns including some relating to the Council’s oversight of AHBs. The CEO of KCC, the Director of Housing and secretary to the Audit committee have all refused to furnish the contact details of the External Chair of the Audit Committee.
Cllrs are being denied access to a Council Audit conducted this year of AHBs in Kildare
If there is no transparency or accountability in the delivery of social housing by a local authority – can we say with any confidence that local authorities are the most effective, fair or efficient method of delivering housing?
Note : Just yesterday the Local Government Auditor confirmed to me that Cllrs are entitled to seek information from the Chair of the Audit committee and are therefore entitled to his contact details.
Argument against setting up a new semi-state body to deliver social housing
1) The argument re being able to remove the cost of housing off the states balance sheet is an attractive one but is it valid? The same argument was used in relation to Irish Water and that was rejected by the EU.
2) Will a new body be any more transparent or accountable in the delivery of its service or will it just be an extra cost in the delivery of housing? Should they instead spend money on allocating more staff to Local Authorities to drive the delivery of housing and provide proper oversight of organisations to whom that service is outsourced to. My instinct is that this would serve to further increase the cost of local government without a concomitant increase in the quality of service delivered