Clúid’s housing development may be a model for others, writes Noel Baker.
SUCH is the prime location of Mary and Paddy Milner’s living room in relation to the Macroom GAA pitch, they could charge for tickets. It could by a Muskerry executive box, of sorts.
“The poor things,” Mary says, gesturing at the green swathe, the entirety of which is within eyeshot of her sitting room.
“They were playing a match in the rain and wind the other night. We were sitting in here.”
The couple, who recently moved to Macroom from Blackpool in Cork City, are arguably sitting pretty in more ways than one.
They now live in an apartment in the Granary development in the town centre, with security of tenure, rent levels based on income, and with voluntary housing association Clúid Housing as a landlord.
The days of waiting on the local authority housing list — “stressful”, Mary says — are long gone.
As the housing crisis continues to feature in broadcasts and headlines, this is one of the good news stories.
The Granary was first in development in 2005, a modern apartment block set in the centre of the town. Then the bust came and as James O’Halloran, Clúid’s new business and development manager says, “it sat idle”.
“It was built for a different market,” he says. “It was unfinished. It was starting to become a target for vandalism.”
Unlike some other developments, however, it had something going for it, namely its location, meaning it was suitable for residents who might not have a car and who needed to be close to facilities and shops.
After initially seeking lease approval, Clúid went on to buy the property once another €500,000 was spent by the developer to finish it.
Following the Clúid method of acquisition using private finance via the Housing Financing Agency and backed at the beginning by a small Government loan, the 29-unit property became available for social housing, removing some people off the social housing waiting list.
So far, 17 of the units have been filled, from one-bedroom apartments to three-bedroom affairs across two levels. With their nice fittings and balcony views, it’s an approximation of the Celtic Tiger development it was initially designed to be, only now, the tenants are those deemed in need of secure housing.
One new tenant is Pat [not his real name]. His apartment is beginning to take shape, with a deep new carpet and his sofa set, aided by a grant from Community Welfare. Before he secured his place in Macroom, just before Christmas, he had been on the housing list for 26 years, in private rented accommodation of all shapes and sizes.
“Some of the places, you wouldn’t put a dog into,” he says. “I wanted to get off the list and get a place. I can call this my home.”
He also has a medical condition and says the new home has benefited his health and lifestyle, and he is getting to know some of the neighbours. Not long before his move, his rent was increased in his old lodgings by almost 25% in one go. “I am completely chilled out since moving here,” he says.
James O’Halloran and Clúid housing officer Frances O’Brien agree that without the assistance of Cork County Council, the 29 units in the Granary would not have come to fruition.
They are still receiving nominations from the local authority for tenants to fill the remaining 12 units and some of those could well be people more recently affected by the housing crisis and living in emergency accommodation. Frances says: “From a lot of perspectives, it’s a fresh start.”
The tenants undergo an interview and checks are also made with gardaí regarding their suitability.
However, while the Granary development was a prime spot for this type of scheme, not every unfinished relic from the boom is as suitable. James says that, at some point, new developments will have to be built, new landbanks sourced and located, new agreements put in place to facilitate the number of people who need a roof over their heads, and some longer-term security amid a rental market that has priced many families out of contention.
James says Nama has “a huge role” to play in all of this, and that the Clúid model could be rolled out successfully in other areas.
Clúid Housing is targeting 1,500 units over the next three years, though the county-by-county breakdown depends on what is available and where. “What has been delivered already has been a huge success.”
Clúid also facilitated its 100th mortgage-to-rent just before Christmas, allowing someone in danger of losing their home through repossession to stay on in the property as a tenant.
Mary and Paddy moved in on December 21, just in time for Christmas.
They had been Clúid clients for a number of years in Blackpool, following years on the housing list, but now it’s a case of taking in the scenery and setting off on the long walks facilitated by the paths close to the GAA pitch.
Mary, who still works in Cork City, speaks fondly of her son, who is living and working in Colorado.
On the balcony there is a photo of him on graduation day. She says his departure for the United States helped prompt their move to Macroom, as she was getting ‘lonesome’ in the city.
“I would be homeless only for Clúid because I couldn’t afford the rent I was paying,” she says. But those days are gone. When asked for her favourite aspect of living in her new place, she doesn’t hesitate. “The view, the view,” she says. “Where would you buy that view?”
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