In Portstewart 40 households are considered to be in housing stress. Acquisition of suitable sites for new social housing continues to be a problem. However, as an interim measure, housing associations have been asked to acquire existing properties to help reduce the waiting list. Four dwellings have already been purchased, and a further four are in the pipeline. In addition, housing associations are actively seeking sites for new housing. If those can be identified and acquired, there is provision in the housing programme to start 10 new dwellings in 2002-03 and a further 10 in 2003-04. My Department has earmarked the funding to undertake this much-needed work.
Thirty-nine households in Portrush are considered to be in housing stress. In 2002-03, Ark Housing Association plans to provide 15 properties for people with mental health problems. In addition, housing associations have been asked to identify sites for 10 dwellings for elderly people in 2003-04.
The Minister will be aware that there are enormous pressures on land in desirable areas such as seaside towns. Does the Minister agree that in these circumstances social housing is a particular problem given the enormous financial power of developers to acquire all available developing land for holiday homes? Does he agree that the time has come for special measures to ensure social housing is ring-fenced for people who cannot afford to buy into the private sector?
That is a well-made point. That is an issue in particular areas, such as the Portrush/ Portstewart area and other areas that are popular with tourists. It also applies to areas where land prices are expensive. The issue of second homes in the Portrush/Portstewart area adds to the difficulty. The need for new building is acknowledged, and the Member will agree with that. Housing associations are actively looking for suitable sites. Sites are expensive in that area, and that undoubtedly impacts on the ability of housing associations to produce viable projects at reasonable cost, and so on.
I will consider the matter. To some extent, we are at the mercy of market forces. Nevertheless, the issue identified by the Member — and raised by other Members on several occasions — is important, and we in the Department, in conjunction with the Executive and housing associations in particular, will be doing everything in our power to try to address that issue.