Housing Executive: Transfer of Ownership

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Eamonn McCann Eamonn McCann People Before Profit Alliance 2:00 pm, 24th January 2017

2. Mr E McCann asked the Minister for Communities, pursuant to AQW 4374/16-21, to outline his Department's scrutiny of discussions by the Strategic Investment Board and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in relation to the transfer of ownership of Housing Executive buildings. (AQO 961/16-21)

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

The Member has raised this issue before in a question for written answer. As I advised him in my earlier reply to that question, the only discussions that the Housing Executive has had with the Strategic Investment Board about the transfer of ownership of buildings have been in connection with the Department of Finance’s reform of property management programme. The Strategic Investment Board is supporting the Department of Finance with the delivery of the reform of property management programme. This programme has been established to improve the management and reduce the cost of the central government office estate. Changes might include exiting leases, developing more efficient office accommodation and transferring ownership of property to the control of the Department of Finance. The Housing Executive has kept my Department informed of the discussions that have been held.

Photo of Eamonn McCann Eamonn McCann People Before Profit Alliance

As the Minister noted, I have raised this question a number of times in my stint here. The question that I am asking here goes to the heart of the matters which I have raised in questions and letters that I have sent to various people involved. When I read the minutes of the meetings of the Strategic Investment Board (SIB), I read discussions about the Housing Executive stock and whether it should be transferred in bundles of 1,000 or 2,000. What I am asking the Minister is very simple: at what point and in what form is there democratic scrutiny of the process by which Housing Executive stock is being transferred?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Mr McCann is very ably showing where democratic accountability is by raising these questions. With regard to discussions between the Housing Executive and the Strategic Investment Board around the transfer of residential properties, there have not been those discussions with the SIB when it comes to the Housing Executive. It has been in the context that I outlined in my original answer.

In respect of housing transfer stock, yes, the Housing Executive has undertaken to transfer 2,000 of its homes to housing associations, and that is to deliver £100 million of investment. The small-scale voluntary stock transfer programme is not part of the DOF reform of property management programme, and no residential properties owned by the Housing Executive will transfer to housing associations without the agreement of any tenants.

Photo of Jennifer Palmer Jennifer Palmer UUP

Will the Minister outline what discussions he has had with senior members of staff of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive on the future of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and where that is?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Discussions that I have had will have been purely with the chief executive. However, that has been very limited because, obviously, it was a matter for the Executive first of all to look at in terms of whatever future changes, or not, there will be with the Housing Executive. There had been no agreement reached on what would happen to the Housing Executive. Once the Executive, through Committee consultation and scrutiny and the Assembly, identified a clear pathway for the Housing Executive, then, obviously, we would need to engage with the Housing Executive as to what shape that would take, or whether there would be any change at all. There have not been discussions of that nature with the Housing Executive at that level.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I think I heard some semblance of an assurance there, but I would like to draw a bit more from the Minister. What assurance will the Minister give to Northern Ireland Housing Executive tenants in, for example, the Rossville Street area of my constituency that ownership of their homes will not be transferred to a housing association against their wishes?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

That allows me to elaborate a little bit on what Mr McCann said about the democratic accountability. Any transfer of stock from the Housing Executive to a housing association requires the agreement of tenants. A ballot takes place. It would be the same, for example, if the Housing Executive, at any point in the future, decide that it would become a housing association or — the other option that needs to be looked at in terms of what other people have put forward — that Housing Executive stock could go to other housing associations. There has been some thinking around that aspect. For example, if the Housing Executive — to free it up or to allow it to borrow to build houses — was to become some kind of housing association model, and there are various ways to do that, the tenants would have to vote for that. That would include every single tenant that currently exists for the Housing Executive. If they did not agree to it, it could not happen.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy Deputy Speaker

Mr Gerry Mullan is not in his place. I call Mr McNulty.