Housing Executive: Unfit Properties

Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 17th October 2011.

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Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP 3:00 pm, 17th October 2011

2. asked the Minister for Social Development for his assessment of the 4% of Housing Executive properties in the mid-Antrim area that are unfit for habitation compared to the average of 2·4%.   (AQO 560/11-15)

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

Figures from the ‘House Condition Survey 2009’ in relation to unfitness indicated that in the mid-Antrim and Causeway Coast areas the level of unfitness across all housing stock was estimated to be 4% and 1% respectively. That compares with 2·4% across Northern Ireland, a figure which relates to all tenures and includes vacant dwellings.

The latest figures available on Housing Executive stock indicate that there are 29 voids in the Antrim district office, a void rate of 1·2%. That compares with housing association figures of one void property — void for over six weeks — in the Antrim council area. The opportunities that are presented by empty homes such as those are clearly not being taken. Turning empty homes into living assets is not only vital for those in housing need but would help to regenerate many run-down areas and provide a much-needed boost for the construction industry.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given the need that there is in north Antrim, mid-Antrim and the Causeway Coast, what action has he taken or is he about to take to bring empty homes back into use?

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

Despite the development and implementation of an earlier Housing Executive empty homes strategy, the actions taken proved ineffective, with no discernible progress made in bringing empty homes back into use. Since coming into the Department, I have made the issue a priority, and I am determined that the opportunity presented by empty homes across the private and the social sectors is maximised to meet social housing need, as well as assisting to reduce blight and helping to tackle antisocial behaviour issues.

A working group has been established. The first meeting is scheduled for 21 October 2011. That group includes representatives from the Housing Executive, the Finance Department’s Land and Property Services and officials from my Department’s housing and urban regeneration directorates. Under the group’s stewardship, the Housing Executive’s new draft empty homes action plan will be further developed to ensure that the activities in it are properly focused and reflect best practice elsewhere. Clear, outcome-based targets and timescales will be set for each stage of the action plan.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

The Minister touched on the problems in Antrim, although I wonder which parts of his answer relate to south Antrim. What factors are there behind the unfitness of housing in that area?

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

There are a number of factors, but I suggest that the main issue is that, over a number of years, the maintenance of properties has not been given the required priority. It was, in effect, de-prioritised. I get calls from across constituencies in various parts of Northern Ireland from elected representatives and from community workers who say that the situation in their area is unsatisfactory. That has been my experience in my own constituency. We need to put a focus back onto maintaining the social housing stock, particularly Housing Executive properties. Most of the housing association properties are newer.

With older properties in particular, it is that issue of maintenance. When a property is let sit and work is not done, it becomes unfit through issues such as dampness. In other cases, difficulties may arise because of currents standards, for example, on kitchen size. Houses built a long time ago might not meet those standards. There is a lot of work to be done, and we are making empty homes and maintenance priorities in my Department.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

What action does the Minister’s Department intend to take to improve conditions in multi-occupancy homes in Foyle, given that over half of them failed to meet house in multiple occupation (HMO) standards in 2010-11?

Photo of Nelson McCausland Nelson McCausland DUP

HMOs in the private rented sector clearly need to be regulated. Sufficient attention has not been given to that matter, but we are working on it. The Member will be aware that we are bringing in a register of private landlords. There will be a process linked to that of trying to improve standards in the private rented sector. However, we particularly need to get on top of finding out who the landlords are.

The issue of HMOs affects not just Foyle but other areas, and it creates imbalances in the housing market. If, for example, we were to improve the standards of HMOs — I am sure that there would be a resultant increase in the rents charged for some of those houses — we might address some of the difficulties experienced in areas, particularly in parts of Belfast, where there is antisocial behaviour and where there are problems associated with HMOs.