Business

£280 million cash boost announced by EIB for north's neglected social housing sector

Gail Bell

SOCIAL housing in Northern Ireland has been boosted with the European Investment Bank (EIB) confirming £280 million of funding for two major projects - the largest ever amount pledged in the region.

The long-term loans mark the bank's first direct engagement with social housing providers in the north and will substantially lower the cost of borrowing for Choice and Apex housing associations which have received EIB approval for £150m and £130m respectively.

They now join a short list of high-performing associations in the UK and Ireland that have met the EIB's requirements for credit approval.

The funding, alongside statutory support from the Department for Communities, will enable bot associations to begin construction on 4,700 new social homes over the next five years and retro-fit many existing units.

European Investment Bank vice-president Jonathan Taylor said: "We have a firm commitment to supporting new investment in social and affordable housing across the UK that represents nearly half of overall EIB backing for social housing in Europe.

"I am pleased to be in Belfast and Bangor to confirm our largest ever support for social housing investment in Northern Ireland with two excellent local partners, Choice and Apex housing associations.

"The £280 million provided by the European Investment Bank will ensure more than £560 million of overall investment that will improve lives, create jobs, benefit local suppliers and cut heating bills in homes across Northern Ireland."

Welcoming the announcement, Michael McDonnell, chief executive of Choice Housing, said the investment package demonstrated confidence in the organisation's ability to deliver "high quality outcomes".

"This give us access to the most cost-effective long-term finance arrangements ever used in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Ultimately, that means we can make public money go further and put more social homes in the areas where they are needed most.

"As a social enterprise, we direct our resources and commercial ambition towards long-term opportunities that can deliver more for the communities we serve. This is a great result for us, EIB and for the region."

Martin Doherty, chairman of Apex, added: "We are delighted that Vice President Taylor has taken time out of his busy schedule to visit our housing-led regeneration schemes in north Belfast to see for himself the impact that the EIB funding can and will have on inner city communities.

"The EIB financial package will underpin Apex's future development plans and enable us to continue our current programme of transforming disused brownfield sites in Belfast such as Girdwood, North Queen Street police station, Tiger's Bay and in other 'high need' areas across Northern Ireland, into high quality, vibrant communities where people want to live."

Meanwhile, the new Minister for Communities, Paul Givan, said the investment was a clear indication that social housing was a strong market which continued to deliver.

"My Department already provides significant funding for social housing and this combination of public and private financing will enable Choice Housing and Apex, two of our leading providers of social housing, to build more social housing for those in most need across Northern Ireland."

The new EIB support was formally announced during a site visit by Jonathan Taylor to a new Choice Housing development in Greenisland. Mr Taylor also visited Apex housing schemes in north Belfast.

The £280 million to be provided by the EIB will match-funded by grants from the Northern Ireland government and other sources ensuring more than £560 million of overall investment.

Lending by the EIB in the UK last year totalled £5.6 billion and supported long-term investment in 40 projects across the country, representing the largest annual engagement since the start of its lending in the UK in 1973.

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