JUST over a third of housing projects approved for funding by State-owned development lender Home Building Finance Ireland (HBFI) are actually under construction. HBFI announced in its latest update it had trebled its loan approvals to €340m from €114m in the six months to the end of June. However, the lender did not publish data on how much of that had been drawn down by borrowers and did not provide an update when asked by the Irish Independent. A spokesman said 11 HBFI-backed developments are active out of 29 for which funding had been approved when the lender presented its half-year update last month. The projects represent 1,477 housing units if completed. HBFI was established by the Government as a specialist lender to provide finance to builders as part of a number of measures aimed at increasing housing provision. The gap between funding and breaking ground shows the challenges of meeting targets under the challenges presented by Covid-19. According to the Goodbody BER Housebuilding Tracker, completions fell by a third in Q2 and are on track for fewer than 20,000 new units by the end of the year – far short of the estimated demand for 35,000 new homes. HBFI’s annual report for 2019 shows €108m of lending was approved for 17 developments in its first nine months of operation, while less than €7m was drawn down by borrowers, with €1.2m repaid. A spokesman said the ratio of loans to drawdowns was “not indicative of the pattern in 2020”, but did not say what the ratio was this year. He said there is typically a lead-in time of three to six months, which meant the earliest any loan could be drawn down in 2019 was June. Drawdowns typically were phased over the construction period of up to two years post-approval. He said the relationship of drawdowns to approvals in 2020 would therefore be “significantly higher” and in line with HBFI expectations. HBFI has an initial fund with the capacity to lend up to €730m. The lender has said it plans to deliver 7,500 housing units in its first five years. Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath pledged last week in his Budget speech to build 9,500 social housing units in 2021. According to the latest CSO data, residential property prices were flat in August compared to August 2019. Building work was halted in much of the early part of the year but the sector has shown significant recovery. The latest Ulster Bank Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index, which tracks activity month to month suggested a move towards stabilisation in activity but ongoing vulnerability. While some firms reported increases in activity, orders and hiring in September, the overall results pointed to a second consecutive month of contraction across commercial and residential construction and civil engineering.