While the country’s leading housing association celebrates its 30th Jubilee anniversary this year, not everyone is aware that at the heart of the operation is a Kilkenny man.
Conahy-born and raised Ned Brennan has been an integral part of Respond! Housing Association’s inner workings since 2001. He is the chief operations officer of the organisation, which provides housing for almost 20,000 residents around Ireland, including four housing estates in Kilkenny.
“I’m a Kilkenny man, but I was educated in UCD and then the King’s Inn,” says Mr Brennan, whose brother runs a farm in Conahy. He also has a sister working in Kilkenny City, with another living in Ballyragget.
“My first job was with the Dublin City Council, then Wexford Council, and then a year in Kilkenny in the planning department. Then I was the town clerk in Youghal, Cork.
“But over this time, I developed good experience in housing, and then in 2001, I joined Respond!.”
There are four Respond! housing estates in County Kilkenny. Two are in the city – Millennium Court and O’ Loughlin Court, one is in Clogh, and one is in Goresbridge.
Respond! was founded in Waterford in 1982, in response to the high level of poor-quality rental housing. There have been some notable successes and improvements over the years, but the demand for housing has never been greater.
“We are in a very difficult situation,” says Mr Brennan.
“Almost 50 years ago, the first modern housing act was passed. There were 55,000 households on the waiting list. Here we are now after the biggest housing boom in the country’s history and there are now 95,000 households on the local authority list.”
As with almost every aspect of Irish society in 2012, the recession has had a big impact on the organisation’s work, both in terms of demand for its services, as well as central funding.
“We built 5,500 houses across the country from the mid-1990s,” says Mr Brennan, who is also a member of the Board of the Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH).
“But as a result of the economic situation, there is no capital funding available for houses anymore.”
This has led to a number of changes in the way the organisation operates – but in truth, the role was evolving ever since its inception. Mr Brennan says that the nature of housing stock has changed over the years, as more has become understood about a community’s needs.
“We wouldn’t be building social housing in the same way it was being built in the beginning,” he says.
“That was the lesson of the ‘70s and ‘80s. They were too large, with no community services, so you got a lot of marginalisation and anti-social behaviour.
“In the last ten years, many are still large, but with a tenure mix between local authority housing, Respond! housing, affordable housing, housing for the elderly. And crucially, most are supported by a community building as a resource, both for the estate and for the wider community.”
This is the case for both Millennium Court and O’ Loughlin Court, both of which have community focal points catering to the wider community also. It’s these essential services that can improve both the social lives of residents, as well as their prospects in terms of education and employment.
“While Respond! was initially about the provision of housing, it has increasingly become about the delivery of local supports and services,” says Mr Brennan.
“It emphasises the delivery of pre-school and after-school services – programmes for children in the estate and i the wider community. But there are also second-chance education initiatives for adults, as a lot of tenants might have left school early.”
Respond! will tomorrow (Thursday) hold a conference in Cork on the subject of ‘Better Being – Promoting Well-Being’ within communities. The conference will look at mental health within social housing and the community.
It is an issue that has recently been brought to the attention of the organisation in recent times, as society as a whole becomes more aware of the significance of mental health.
“We carried out a study in relation to the wellbeing of tenants,” says Mr Brennan. “There was up to 30% of adults and 23% of children on our estates with mental health problems. Notably, depression in adults, and ADHD or anxiety issues in children. This conference is looking for some solutions that could be put in place.”
The organisation is this year celebrating its 30th Jubilee anniversary with a series of events to mark the milestone, including a celebration of cultural diversity, and the family. Following the conference in Cork, on Friday, the organisation will celebrate the contribution of older people to society.