Housing Waiting List: North Lurgan

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 1:15 pm on 13th April 2021.

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Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 1:15 pm, 13th April 2021

3. Mr O'Dowd asked the Minister for Communities what action the Housing Executive is taking to address the growing waiting list for housing in north Lurgan. (AQO 1851/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I have set out an ambitious, long-term plan to increase the supply of social and affordable housing and to reduce housing stress. However, those plans will take time to come to fruition. Whilst I share the Member's concerns that the number of applicants for social housing and those in housing stress continues to grow, the projected outcome of my plan is to ensure that the supply of social homes can meet the increasing demand. Crucial to that is protecting the social homes that we have and ensuring that they can be maintained, ultimately by the ability of the Housing Executive, in a revitalised form, to access borrowing to sustain itself and to build again.

In the shorter term, the new-build programme is the key action that we can take. One of my priorities is to enhance investment and increase new social home starts. Once the budget for the 2021-22 housing development programme has been finalised, I will announce further detail on the new social homes that will be started very soon.

I am aware from the Housing Executive that the current projected housing need for north Lurgan is for a further 168 new social homes between now and 2025. The Housing Executive is committed to working with the housing association sector to bring forward new social housing proposals to address that need. I understand from the Housing Executive that housing associations have been forwarding a high volume of proposals for the north Lurgan area over the past 12 months. I am pleased to advise that new social housing schemes providing 39 units are due to be completed in the area later this year.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answer and welcome her plans for social and affordable housing. I also thank her for agreeing to meet me on housing issues in north Lurgan and in rural areas in my constituency. The waiting list continues to grow. Will the Minister undertake to keep up the pressure on the Housing Executive and social housing providers to ensure that housing is provided in areas of most need?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Yes, definitely. As part of the housing statement last year, there are strands of work on housing supply, the social housing development programme and ring-fencing in the areas of greatest need. I will bring forward proposals in a number of areas in the short term. I have also made a commitment to the overall revitalisation of our housing sector and to ensuring that we meet those critical demands. I will present those plans to the Executive. They will be costed and timetabled before the end of the Assembly mandate.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

I call the Deputy Chairperson of the Communities Committee.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you very much, Mr Principal Deputy Speaker. I support the Minister's commitment to social housing. Will she assure the House that she is committed to shared housing? We have recently seen disgraceful actions in Carrickfergus. Will she dedicate herself to providing shared housing where people from all cultures and backgrounds can live together and to ensuring that we stop enabling housing zones that exclude people based on religion, culture or race?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

The reports of recent days are really unfortunate. Those actions need to be condemned, as I know that, in the community, they have been. Housing is a fundamental right. It is the basic thing that somebody needs and that is needed for society to function. People, particularly those in critical need, must have a home. As part of the housing transformation, I am committed to that.

It is about building suitable, affordable and sustainable housing for those who need it, where they need it. It will include shared housing. We are working on a number of programmes, and we will look at that as part of the housing mix. I am more than happy to discuss that with the Member as a follow-up.

Photo of Pat Catney Pat Catney Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, will you give me an update on the abolition of the right-to-buy scheme? The house sales scheme in the housing associations has been abolished. Since the passage of legislation last year, what action has the Minister taken to extend that policy to NIHE properties?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Work is ongoing on bringing forward a consultation on the future of the Housing Executive house sales scheme. That will be brought forward in the coming weeks.

Photo of Robin Newton Robin Newton DUP

Will the Minister respond to a report in yesterday's 'Belfast Telegraph' that indicated that, as it stands, in 20 years' time, we will still not have met the housing need?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

The report is reflective of statements that were made in the Chamber by my predecessor, Carál, while I was off, and subsequently by me when I came back. That is part of the reason why a vital statement was brought forward in November on the revitalisation of the Housing Executive. One of the biggest issues is about dealing with the historical debt. I am glad to say that we have already dealt with corporation tax exemption. That is really good, but we need to get the Housing Executive to build again. There are supply issues, and we are bringing forward a housing supply strategy to look at those. We are also looking at homelessness and revising our response to it. Some good learning has come out of COVID-19 on how we can work proactively and better with Health on homelessness prevention and on sustaining tenancies for people so that they do not repeatedly become homeless.

All those issues are part of the revitalisation agenda. We are bringing forward some work on the house sales scheme, because I recognise that, on average, we build 1,800 homes a year and that nearly 500 of them are being sold off through the house sales scheme. We need to fundamentally deal with that in order to prevent depletion of the social housing stock. That is one of the areas that I will look at. Whilst we can be more ambitious with the housing development programme, 1,800 homes a year is not enough, and we need to have better ways of developing. Land is an issue, and we are looking at the land and supply strategy as well. We are —

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

Minister, I am afraid that you are out of time.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

— trying to work with councils on that. I am happy to share more information on that programme.

Photo of Rachel Woods Rachel Woods Green

The Minister touched on corporation tax in her answer to Mr Newton. On 3 March, she stated:

"the Housing Executive has paid almost £58 million in Corporation Tax. This is money that could have been invested in their homes for the benefit of their tenants."

Will the Minister tell us how change is made to corporation tax structures and how financial savings stemming from it will be measured? Will savings be reallocated to address housing waiting lists, housing quality and added benefits for people?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Part of our plan is for those funds go into maintaining the existing stock. There have been huge challenges. It is a part of the revitalisation agenda. If we do not make changes urgently now — we have been talking about this for over a decade, and change needs to happen now — we are going to lose half the stock that the Housing Executive has. That is the hard reality and is part of the cost analysis that we are carrying out.

It is really good and significant that the corporation tax issue has been resolved. We want those funds to go directly back into maintaining existing properties. We can then look at new models of enabling the Housing Executive to borrow so that we can have a more ambitious housebuilding programme.