Social Housing

Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 24th May 2010.

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Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance 3:15 pm, 24th May 2010

5. asked the Minister for Social Development for an update on the Department’s current social housing deficit. (AQO 1288/10)

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his question. I do not intend to rehearse the arguments about the deficit in social housing. Margaret Ritchie made and won those arguments in government, in and outside the Chamber, and among the population. Given that the housing budget relies on house and other property sales, the collapse of the land and property market created unforeseen pressure and had a severely detrimental impact on housing and on the Department for Social Development more than on any other Department. As I said, Margaret Ritchie deserves immense credit, because it is widely acknowledged by people involved in social housing that she turned the situation around.

My target is to improve on Margaret Ritchie’s achievement of building more than 1,800 newbuild starts in the past financial year by building 2,000 newbuild starts in the current financial year. I also have a wider target in respect of new housing starts over the lifetime of this mandate, as set out in the Programme for Government. That is the priority. Given the Assembly’s good work in achieving outcomes such as building more houses this year than in any other year in the past decade, I trust that none of the funding for such work will be put in jeopardy in future budget negotiations.

Ultimately, however, if Housing Executive or social housing depends on land sales rather than on guaranteed budget lines year on year, the number of new housing starts will be put in jeopardy. Therefore, as Margaret Ritchie regularly said — I endorse her comments — until and unless the housing budget is put on a sound financial footing and is not subject to the vagaries of the market in the sale of houses and other property, there will be a hand-to-mouth existence. That is not a clever way of doing something as important as providing affordable social housing for people in need.

Photo of Kieran McCarthy Kieran McCarthy Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer and congratulate him on his appointment. I, too, commend Margaret Ritchie for her work.

I know that the Minister has been in office only a few hours, but, given that he spoke repeatedly this afternoon about a shared and reconciled future, will he tell the House whether those new houses, which will hopefully be built, will be allocated to just one section of the community or whether they will be made available to everyone?

Photo of Alex Attwood Alex Attwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his comments and his question, although I do not have time to address all the issues that arise from it. However, I have made it clear that the need to put housing on a secure financial basis remains a priority and that we must stretch ourselves when it comes to a shared future, including shared housing. I will not ride roughshod over the practices of past decades in allocating housing on points. However, the allocation of housing and the ways in which housing moneys are spent in various parts of the North need some further consideration. A review of the Housing Executive is due, so let us see through that whether there are ways and means of thinking smarter, building more, helping people and, at all times, dealing with the need that exists in the North.ITC Franklin Gothic Demi'; ">