Ronald Quinlan: 'Urbeo to capitalise on State's yawning social housing gap'
With the Government still struggling to tackle, or even spin its way through the housing crisis, the arrival of Urbeo Residential on the scene is arguably one of the more interesting developments to have taken place in 2018.
The company, which is being funded primarily by US investment fund Starwood and to the tune of €60m by the Irish Strategic Investment Fund (Isif), is different to the majority of operators in Ireland's fast-growing Build-to-Rent (BTR) sector, in specifically stating its intention to deliver "an element of social and supported tenancies" both in Dublin and other major Irish cities.
Urbeo CEO Felix McKenna highlighted the opportunity these elements of the private sector presented earlier this year when he and co-founder, Bill Nowlan were seeking funding for their new venture, saying: "We believe there is a clear gap in the market to provide a quality rental housing option to low and middle-income households".
While it remains to be seen just how successful Urbeo will be in filling in this yawning gap, there's no arguing that for now, it has much of the proverbial pitch to itself.
Take the case of Ireland's largest private landlord, Ires Reit, for instance. Notwithstanding its massive rental portfolio, just 303 of the tenants on the company's books were in receipt of assistance from the State under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme according to its latest set of financial results. The figure accounts for 11pc of its total portfolio of 2,678 rental units. Ires Reit, for its part, says it does not discriminate against tenants in receipt of social welfare payments, with units leased under HAP being offered at the market rent which varies, depending on the location and size of the property.
A cursory perusal of Ireland's other BTR operators meanwhile shows that, for now, they are competing primarily for a share of the market at either the prevailing market rate, or at the premium pricing levels achievable in prime areas such as the Dublin Docklands and the more exclusive suburbs of South Dublin.
In the case of the 190 apartments US real estate giant Kennedy Wilson is bringing to the rental market at its Capital Dock scheme, two-bedroom units are being advertised for €3,300 a month. Although other schemes may not be quite as expensive, they could in many cases prove to be beyond the reach of Urbeo's tenants. The firm has said it will partner with builders, developers and housing associations to deliver new rental housing in "non-prime but well-serviced locations".