Housing: Conservative Party Proposals

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:00 pm on 27th April 2015.

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Photo of Mickey Brady Mickey Brady Sinn Féin 3:00 pm, 27th April 2015

4. Mr Brady asked the Minister for Social Development if he will oppose the local introduction of the sell-off of housing, including housing association properties, proposed by the Conservative Party. (AQO 8021/11-15)

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I am sure that the Member is aware or should be aware that a system of selling social houses to existing tenants is in place in Northern Ireland in the form of the house sales scheme. The house sales scheme gives eligible tenants of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or registered housing associations the right to buy their property from their landlord at a discounted rate to the normal market value. The initial discount for the house sales scheme is set at present at 20% of the market value, increasing by 2% for each additional completed year of tenancy to a maximum of 60% or £24,000, whichever is lower.

Photo of Mickey Brady Mickey Brady Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his answer. What consideration has he given to stopping the ongoing sell-off of publicly owned housing?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

The Member's colleague, who is sitting beside him, commented on concerns about the Housing Executive that a plan would be afoot that, at some stage, I would put the Housing Executive into a new arrangement that would take it outside public ownership. Since I have come into post, I have endeavoured to build a working relationship with the Housing Executive. I am very cognisant of the fact that it has done a very good job in the past. Like any organisation, it has had its difficulties and challenges. However, I want to ensure that we have good homes in Northern Ireland, and I do not believe that that will be provided for through a one-size-fits-all approach.

As was highlighted by the Member's colleague, a request has come to me via the Housing Executive board that it be given additional powers to borrow money and, therefore, be in a better place to do a better job. I will endeavour to work with the Housing Executive. We are seriously considering those issues at the moment. I trust that, with the help of the Assembly, I will very soon be in a position to give an assurance to the Housing Executive, to its tenants and to the people of Northern Ireland that we are not in the business of selling off but that we are in the business of ensuring that we get the best possible outcome for our tenants to deliver the best possible homes for the people of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP

Does the Minister agree that, first, the purchase of homes by tenants is popular; secondly, it releases capital that is tied up in houses that are not available for public dispersal at present; and, thirdly, will he reject the left-wing state-controlled ideology of Sinn Féin that wants people to be dependent on the public sector rather than have the freedom to own property if they so wish?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

As always, you can depend on the Member for East Antrim to set an issue in context. I agree with him. We must have a mix of provision that does not restrict the people who want to advance and own their own home. Equally, when there is not the opportunity for people to do that, we must have a system whereby people still have access to good homes.

I trust that the public and parties in the House will eventually take this up, but we often refer here to building houses, when, as I have said in the House before, it should be about building homes. I have seen communities with a mixture of provision, whether it is private, social or co-ownership. However, whatever the provision and whoever the provider, the one thing we need to ensure is that they are quality homes that are fit for purpose.

I will shortly be bringing to the Social Development Committee and the House the outcome of the Savills investigation. The sad reality is that when we see the detail of that report, we will find that it will clearly indicate that a huge amount of work and money will be needed to bring the existing Housing Executive stock up to a level that any of us would be happy with in this modern day and age.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 27th April 2015

That ends the period for listed questions. Topical question 6 has been withdrawn.