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 Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 8:45 pm, 30th June 2020

I support the Bill. The Minister and other Members have outlined the necessity for the Bill and the undoubted benefits that it brings to enabling our housing associations to access more funding and build more much-needed homes as our housing waiting lists continue to spiral and more and more families face housing stress and homelessness. We must take every step within our power to address this shameful situation and afford our people the fundamental right of a roof over their head. Not only will the Bill allow us to build more social housing, but it will free up finance to support co-ownership, allowing some people an affordable housing option and a chance to get on the property ladder. I welcome the Minister's recent announcement in that regard.

While I support the Bill, and always have, I do regret the fact that my amendments at Consideration Stage were not supported. I have today listened to the Minister's explanation and I do accept it, although I still then question why the scope of the Bill was not wider in the first place. I am going to touch again on the rationale behind those amendments, not to try to argue for them again, but just to underline the urgency and importance of bringing that other piece of work that the Minister has promised to the Assembly.

Ending the mandatory right to buy in the Housing Executive as well as in the associations will stop us haemorrhaging over 400 homes a year from our social housing stock. For context, the answer to a written question that I received from the Minister this afternoon revealed that, in the past five years, we have built a paltry 5,270 new social homes. We have purchased just over 900 off the shelf and, through existing satisfactory purchase and rehabilitation, added around another 1,200 units, giving us a grand total of 7,411 additional social housing units in five years. In the same time, we have sold off over 2,000 units through the house sales schemes in the Housing Executive and the associations. This is madness. The Minister has given a commitment to bring forward a separate piece of work, which we heard about again from her today, to address the mess that has been made of the Housing Executive almost 10 years after a fundamental review of it, and I urge her to do so without delay. I welcome the ambition outlined by the Minister in a press release earlier today, and commit myself to working with her, and with anyone and everyone, to realise and surpass that ambition.

We as an Assembly must also support the Infrastructure Minister in her attempts to secure vital funding for Northern Ireland Water, because no drains means no cranes. If we do not have adequate waste and water infrastructure, out best-laid plans for an ambitious social housing development programme will almost certainly go awry. I commend Minister Ní Chuilín for how she has taken on the baton from her predecessor and almost got to the finish line — it is very much in sight — with this Bill. The Bill will satisfy the ONS requirements to ensure the reclassification of housing associations. It is a start. It is a foundation on which to build — and build and build. I support the Bill.