Up to 1,600 homes to be used as social housing could be built across Northern Ireland after a housing association announced it was borrowing nearly £120m.
Clanmil Housing Group said it has secured lending of £75m from Danske Bank and £45m from Barclays for the next four years – and that the cash injection would also enable it to access up to £80m in statutory funding.
It said it would use £100m for building new social homes to house up to 5,000 people, while the remainder will be used to pay off or rearrange existing loans.
Clanmil chairman Steve Amos said the scheme was "good news in a tough lending market".
He said: "Faced with growing demand for social housing and increasing constraints on statutory funding, our challenge is to find new funding sources that will support continued investment in social housing and make the available public money go further.
"Thanks to strong working relationships with both banks and their confidence in Clanmil's financial management, we have been able to agree a mix of funding at very competitive rates and with a range of tenures to support the delivery of such a large affordable housing investment programme.
"This funding leaves Clanmil well placed to continue to play a major role in the provision of good, affordable homes for people in housing need," said Mr Amos.
"The Northern Ireland economy will also benefit from much-needed jobs for the local construction industry," he added.
The investment is expected to generate almost 600 construction jobs over four years and support more than 400 other jobs in the supply chain.
John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers' Federation (CEF) said housing associations were in a strong position of being able to supplement their public funding with private finance.
"Clanmil is to be commended for securing these substantial loans which will put them in a strong position to fund social housing developments in the coming years," he said.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland – whose department is set to provide £80m in statutory funding – said the finance would be welcomed by prospective tenants and builders. "The next three years of the Social Housing Development Programme will see housing associations significantly step up output to deliver 2,000 new homes each year.
"Clanmil will play a key role in achieving these targets and this £120m loan will be invaluable in partnering match funding from my department to allow these ambitious targets to be met," he said.
There were more than 41,300 applicants on Northern Ireland's social housing waiting list in March last year, of whom nearly 50% were deemed to be in housing stress, according to Clanmil. Clanmil Housing is one of Northern Ireland's main housing associations and owns more than 3,500 properties. They include family homes, homes for single and elderly people, and sheltered housing.