Housing Opinion Piece by Deirdre Hargey MLA, Minister for Communities

Housing stress is increasing here, despite investment and measures to improve housing supply and standards – our current system is broken. Deirdre Hargey MLA  |  Sun Mar 14 2021
Transformative change is needed to address the huge challenges we face in tackling our growing housing waiting lists and the increasing number of people and families most in need of a home.

Housing stress is increasing here, despite investment and measures to improve housing supply and standards – our current system is broken.

Transformative change is needed to address the huge challenges we face in tackling our growing housing waiting lists and the increasing number of people and families most in need of a home.

The delivery of this much needed change is front and centre of my housing programme.

The changes that I will bring will ensure that the Housing Executive can build more homes where they are needed and provide essential maintenance to the 85,000 homes they currently manage. I want to provide security for current tenants and homes for future generations.

Recently a Consultation Outcome Report on the Fundamental Review Social Housing Allocations was published, including next steps. I want to ensure an effective and fair social housing allocations system for all.

I want support to be available before and after people get their new home.

I intend to reintroduce ring-fencing, which means money will be protected to prioritise areas where there is highest housing need, such as North Belfast, West Belfast, Derry City and other areas.

The Right to Buy policy introduced by the Thatcher Government in the 80’s meant that thousands of Housing Executive homes were sold and never replaced. This has undoubtedly placed huge, additional pressure onto a growing social housing waiting list and particularly for those most in need. A public consultation on ending the Right to Buy scheme will be introduced.

To those tenants who have already applied to buy their Housing Executive home, I will ensure their applications are considered before the House Sales Scheme ends.

In November my Department secured £145m funding for Co-Ownership to help over 4,000 people afford to buy their own homes over the next four years. I want to ensure that co-ownership is easily accessible for people who want to own their own home. I have also secured an additional £13 million to enable Co-Ownership to help another 422 first time buyers adversely impacted by the requirement by mortgage lenders for substantially higher deposits from the beginning of the pandemic.

My plans include providing more affordable rental solutions for others and the transformation of other tenures including introducing legislation to improve safety, security and quality of homes for those people living in the private rented sector.

For some people and families, private renting is a suitable option but for many others, it is their only choice.

I accept that landlords run businesses, but I am taking action to stop the activities of rogue landlords. I will not allow them to continue to exploit tenants. People and families living in the private rented sector face the highest rents, and often get the least in return for their money.

Everyone who lives in a rented home should be able to do so safely. These homes should have safe electrics and tenants should be able to live free of the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning. Part of my plans will be to consider an enhanced role for our councils in relation to registration and enforcement in the private rented sector.

In parallel to all this work in the social and private rented sectors, I will be prioritising action to improve our response to homelessness, to focus on prevention rather than management.

I have committed to leading on the development of a Housing Supply Strategy that will examine the significant and deep rooted barriers to increasing supply. The Strategy will have mixed tenure at its heart, ensuring stable, secure and sustainable communities for everyone.

When we get this right, the Strategy will provide a firm foundation for the delivery of a wide range of positive social and economic outcomes and help us move to the point that every household has access to a good-quality, affordable and sustainable home that is appropriate to its needs.

Equality and human rights are at the heart of my approach, you can’t get more basic than the right to a home.

Deirdre Hargey is a Sinn Fein MLA for South Belfast, and was appointed Minister of the Department for Communities on 11 January 2020.

Deirdre has served on Belfast City Council since 2010 and held the office of Lord Mayor of Belfast between June 2018 and June 2019.

Deirdre is committed to building inclusive communities, tackling poverty, and addressing social inequalities to improve people’s lives.

She has set her direction for the Department; working across government, with Arm’s Length Bodies and with local communities, to deliver DfC’s common purpose of Supporting People, Building Communities, Shaping Places.