Housing: Empty Homes Strategy

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Development – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 27th April 2015.

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Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin 3:15 pm, 27th April 2015

T2. Mr F McCann asked the Minister for Social Development for an update on the empty homes strategy, including private and social housing, and to explain what is being done to bring these houses into use to deal with the lengthy waiting lists. (AQT 2412/11-15)

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thank the Member. When it comes to housing issues, the Member is someone who always endeavours to keep a watching brief. I am concerned about the ongoing work that needs to be done with the Housing Executive and other organisations.

This goes back to the point that I made about how we engage with those organisations to ensure that they do not suddenly come to a point where they believe that they are involved in some meaningless process, when actually there is a focus on them to ensure that they deliver for their tenants. My Department continues to work with the executive and other organisations to ensure that, whether the issue is empty homes or maintenance, they are well aware of their requirements to do what they can within the budgetary envelope that was given to them to deliver those services.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his response. World Homeless Day was the week before last, and several events were held throughout the city of Belfast and a number of organisations marched to City Hall. Yet only yards from where that march took place, there are hundreds of apartments that have been lying empty for quite a number of years that could, if brought in to use, help to deal with some of the serious homelessness problems.

Many people who have —

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I really need a question shortly.

Photo of Fra McCann Fra McCann Sinn Féin

I am asking the Minister this: how can you deal with landlords who have hundreds of homes or apartments lying there that could be brought back into use to deal with homelessness?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I think that it is true to say that the Housing Executive and housing associations remain committed to moving tenants into available homes as quickly as possible. The standard tool of measurement for the process is the proportion of empty stock, or voids, at any given time. Quickly moving people from the waiting list into homes once they become available is reflected in a lower proportion of empty homes. The target for void management of social housing is 4%, as it is for overall Northern Ireland void management of relevant social housing providers.

I agree with the Member that we need to do all that we can. I heard some comments that made the assertion that somehow we were not taking the issue seriously. I take very seriously ensuring that we are doing all that we can, whether for people who are deemed to be homeless, people who are in housing stress or people in particular areas where there are certain challenges to getting a better return from the overall waiting list. I give the Member that assurance, because there is a responsibility for landlords — the Member is absolutely right — but it is a collective responsibility on our part to do all that we can to encourage and facilitate a resolution to the issue.