Housing bodies link-up for £340m homes investment
Two of Northern Ireland's biggest housing associations have merged and plan a £340m investment in housing, creating 1,200 jobs over the next five years.
Choice is a merger of OakleeTrinity, which itself only joined forces in April last year, and Ulidia. The firm said it is now in a position to undertake "very significant regeneration projects" which will include both commercial and housing developments.
Choice said it will build 2,500 new social and affordable homes over the next five years around Northern Ireland, which will result in 700 construction jobs. It also said the projects would support another 500 jobs in the supply chain.
The £340m investment will be made up of £180m in funding from Danske Bank and government grants. It is also negotiating funding with the European Investment Bank.
The Belfast-based firm, which employs more than 300 people, is a landlord to 10,000 homes, holds property assets of more than £700m and has an annual turnover of £40m.
Ian Elliott, chief executive of Choice, said the merger had been necessary in order to "create the capacity to be able to do more and to be able to leverage in more funding".
Choice will be much more focused on regeneration projects, he said. "That was a major challenge for us - we feel the city here in Belfast, and in Derry, as well as other towns, require a lot of regeneration," he said.
"So it was a chance to do that on a more meaningful scale.
"Now we have scale where we can generally achieve a lot of those ambitions." Mr Elliott said Choice will announce its regeneration projects over the summer.
"We are hopeful we will be able to take on some very significant regeneration projects in bigger, inner-city sites where we will do a mixture of housing and commercial development," said Mr Elliott.
Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey backed the merger, which has made Choice the largest housing association in Northern Ireland.
"The investment package announced demonstrates confidence in the strength of the social housing sector and their ability to deliver a sustainable quality product," Mr Storey said.
He added: "I have no doubt that the competitive edge gained by the merger of the already strong performing associations of Oaklee, Trinity and Ulidia will pay further dividends."