Housing (Amendment) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 8:45 pm on 30th June 2020.

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Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin 8:45 pm, 30th June 2020

I am not going to rehash the many arguments in support of the Bill that have been made over the last number of weeks, but I reiterate my praise for Minister Hargey and Minister Ní Chuilín in their determination to achieve the reclassification of the housing associations. We know the knock-on detrimental effect of not achieving reclassification. It has been well articulated by Members across the Chamber in the last number of weeks, not least of all the effect that it would have on the ability to build much-needed social homes, which would see this drop by 50% in real terms. I know that is something that none of us in this Chamber could stand over.

It was useful for the Committee to have received clarity from departmental officials last week on the ONS reclassification and why the Housing Executive could not be included in the Bill. It was also very encouraging to hear officials reiterate Minister Hargey's commitment to bring forward proposals around the Housing Executive sales scheme. That would give the Committee proper time for scrutiny, which is what we were all asking for. I am glad to hear Minister Ní Chuilín reiterate her support for that course of action here today.

New Decade, New Approach brings a focus on building homes in areas where objective need has been identified. Sinn Féin believes that adequate housing is a human right, and we will continue to promote that across the island. The unacceptable level of homelessness, North and South, needs to be addressed, and we are certainly up for doing that. Sinn Féin believes that the building of social and affordable homes should be targeted in areas of highest need, and rural areas need to be included and should not be forgotten about in that respect.

As an MLA representing a largely rural constituency, I know that housing development in rural locations has missed its target over each of the past five years. The Housing Executive's rural and place shaping teams need to work with rural communities and their representatives to examine their housing needs and support housing associations in the delivery of new-build schemes to address social housing need in areas such as south Down.

The Bill is about maintaining the support and supply of new homes, which is necessary to help families and people to access housing and have the security and dignity of a home. The Assembly must ensure maximum delivery of social and affordable homes, which will undoubtedly be achieved by the passage of the Bill. Sinn Féin will support the Bill.