How do you handle intimidation & homelessness when you’re overworked, underpaid and bosses aren’t doing their jobs? | Freedom of Information Archive | PPR

How do you handle intimidation & homelessness when you’re overworked, underpaid and bosses aren’t doing their jobs?

With the housing system failing to deliver, Housing Executive staff went on strike last year seeking better pay and fair working conditions. But what is happening behind the scenes? Right to a Home | Thu Feb 15 2024

Last year, workers at the Housing Executive went on strike. They joined tens of thousands of public sector employees who downed tools to seek better pay and fair working conditions. We in PPR were proud to stand in solidarity with these workers demanding their rights. NIPSA – a trade union representing some of the workforce – has recently written to the new housing Minister, Gordon Lyons, seeking assurances that the Housing Executive won’t become further victim to the  predatory privatisation agenda which has been rolling out for decades in tandem with growing homelessness – we currently spend more money on private landlords and hotel owners than on social housing development and we exploit agency staff to deliver public sector jobs without decent terms and conditions.

Why wouldn’t they go on strike!? Imagine what it must be like to work in a housing system with over 45000 people on the waiting list – listening every day to the trauma reported to you on the front desk while the bosses – Ministers and Chief Executives – fail to deliver more than 1000 units of social housing a year on average for the last fifteen years? Consider what its like for low paid staff, forced to take industrial action when Ministers are earning around £89,500 per year (2021/22 figure) - a guaranteed wage even when not at work. Imagine bargaining and protesting for a small pay increase when the Chief Executive of the Housing Executive, Grainia Long is hitting around £125k-£130k (2022 figure (p. 123)) and housing association Chief Executives are reportedly topping £100k a year – and that was ten years ago! If Chief Executive and Ministerial pay was linked to the successful delivery of new social housing units, they would likely be on the dole and presenting as homeless.

Recent responses to our Freedom of Information requests give us a glimpse behind the curtain at the Housing Executive - agency staff are not counted in the numbers released to us, which will come as no surprise, of course, to agency staff.

What we do know is that housing need remains enormous in areas where housing need has always been enormous. In Belfast these growing and diverse homeless communities are in hotels and hostels adjacent to one of the largest publicly owned sites in the Ministerial property portfolio - Mackies. As of September 2023 109 Housing Executive staff were handling over 12,000 cases in the city – an average of 110 people each. What level of attention and care could possibly be given in these circumstances when the answer to every question is – ‘I’m sorry, but your area of choice is very high demand’ - code for low supply.

On top of our housing crisis we have seen numerous reports of sectarian and racist violence. Investigations are being championed for the most part by journalists. We asked the Housing Executive to publish any guidance or advice they give to housing applicants to help inform safe choices. We did not expect the response that we received – that the ‘NIHE does not carry out such analysis’ – and are following up with questions to help us better understand what seems to be an enormous success - a reported 65% drop in people presenting as homeless due to intimidation. Why is this apparent reduction in people experiencing intimidation not being celebrated by the top brass? If anything is a photo moment surely this is it? But, is it really plausible that front line staff at the Housing Executive, working class people who live in every district in the city, and watch the same news as the rest of us, are not advising people about personal safety?

Keep tuning in for more updates as and when we get them.