Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has set out an ambitious programme aimed at addressing housing stress, providing housing solutions and supporting those in greatest need.
The Minister was addressing the Chartered Institute for Housing’s International Housing Summit through a pre-recorded key note speech. In her address the Minister said that housing faced many challenges but should be a primary focus of government as it is so vital to building and sustaining communities and improving the health and wellbeing of our citizens.
The Minister’s programme of priorities can be summarised as follows:-
– Increasing housing supply/ options across all tenures, including building more social housing;
– Making the best use of our existing housing;
– Improving the Private Rented Sector; and
– Improving Housing for the most vulnerable.
The Minister said: “With New Decade, New Approach we have agreed to put housing right at the heart of our Programme for Government. We will put front and centre our commitment that every household has access to a good quality, affordable and sustainable home that is appropriate for its needs.
“Increasing housing supply is one of the main challenges we face and increasing this supply across all tenures will be crucial. Of course social housing will be at the core of my programme to tackle housing stress and increase housing supply for many including families, the elderly and those with disabilities. However social housing is only one part of the whole housing system and improving the supply of social housing will not, in isolation, reduce housing stress. There are other parts of our housing economy which are not working, which means that we need a wider range and choice of housing options.
“Linked to this is ensuring the best use of our existing stock. The Housing Executive, as a social housing landlord, owns some 86,000 homes. But the investment challenges these homes face is no secret with more than £7.1billion investment needed over 30 years to simply maintain the status quo. Our priority must be to ensure the Housing Executive as a landlord is sustainable. Tackling the Housing Executive investment challenge will require broad political and social consensus and achieving this will be one of the key areas of work over the next two years.”
The Minister also pointed to the role of a reformed housing allocations system in managing the stock that is available and also explained that she is currently considering proposals to improve the selection process, make it more effective at addressing housing stress, but crucially, keep fairness and equality at its heart.
Turning to the private rented sector, which now makes up around 16% of the housing market here, the Minister said: “Over the next two years I intend to build from my Department’s 2017 review and take forward work to improve the safety, security and quality of the Private Rented sector.”
Minister Ní Chuilín continued: “Throughout the Covid-19 crisis we have taken a number of key steps to protect one of our most vulnerable groups – those who are homeless. Temporary accommodation has been provided for over 3,000 households, including those individuals and families with no recourse to public funds. There have been no recorded instances of rough sleeping during the recent emergency period in the North and our Housing Executive has advised that those previously rough sleeping are now engaging with their services.
“Our future homeless policy will build on lessons learned from how we dealt with Covid-19 crisis as we look to improve our response to homelessness.”
The Supporting People programme, which once again has had its budget protected from cuts and maintained at £72.8million, provides a lifeline for many of our most vulnerable people, including homeless people, older people and people with a disability. Protecting the Programme going forward will also be a priority, along with ensuing the Programme is delivered as efficiently as possible by implementing the recommendations of the 2015 review, providing a more strategic approach.
The Minister concluded: “Good housing is not just about the fabric of the house, but includes issues, such as, affordability, availability and security of tenure. It is people centred, focused on delivering on objective need and the principles of fairness and equality. Primarily, houses are not investments. They are people’s homes.”