Social Housing: West Tyrone

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 22 June 2021.

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Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:15, 22 June 2021

5. Mr McCrossan asked the Minister for Communities for her assessment of the social housing waiting lists in West Tyrone. (AQO 2272/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

As of 31 March 2021, a total of 1,809 applicants were on the common waiting list for the allocation of a social home in the West Tyrone area. Of those, 1,105 are deemed to be in housing stress. While 219 homes have been allocated over the past year, I am acutely aware that there is a shortage in the supply of homes, and that needs to be addressed. To do so, I have set out an ambitious, long-term plan to increase the supply of social and affordable housing and reduce housing stress. However, those plans will take time to come to fruition, and whilst I share the concerns about the numbers waiting for a home, the projected outcome of my plans is about ensuring that the supply of social homes can meet the increase in demand.

The protection of the social homes that we have is also crucial. It must be ensured that they can be maintained, and, ultimately, that the Housing Executive is revitalised in such a way that it is able to access borrowing to sustain itself and, going forward, new builds. 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 social homes. That resulted in achieving 2,403 starts last year. That was the largest number of units in the past 10 years. I have also secured an increase of £162 million in the 2021-22 Budget for the social housing development programme, with a target of starting a minimum of 1,900 homes in this year.

I am aware from the Housing Executive that the current projected need for West Tyrone is a further 560 new social homes between now and 2025. The Housing Executive is committed to working with housing associations to bring forward new social home proposals in the time ahead. I am also pleased to advise that 179 new social housing units are under construction in the West Tyrone area.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for that answer. The figures are stark. It is an issue that needs to be tackled. Obviously, I welcome the recent developments regarding new builds, particularly for the Adria site in Strabane. That will alleviate pressure on that side of the constituency. That said, there is a serious issue regarding the provision of bungalows in social housing stock, and that is not specific to West Tyrone. There is no availability of ground-floor accommodation for elderly or disabled people in constituencies such as mine. What is the Minister for Communities doing to tackle that very serious issue and to ensure that those in need have access to suitable housing?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for the follow-up question. As I stated, the social housing development programme is based on the housing need presented. There are percentage targets for the provision of bungalows, but we have a focus on building homes for life — homes that people can grow with. We want to look at that in new builds, going forward. I also touched on the fact that we are progressing a housing supply strategy as part of the wider revitalisation agenda. Again, we are taking evidence around that. The consultation is open, and there has been a call for evidence. I encourage people to take part in it.

As part of the supply strategy, we are also working with local councils on land, and we are looking at councils' growth targets, within their local development plans, for population changes and trends over the next 20, 30 and 40 years. All of that will be part of the housing programme and the supply of social homes, and we will look at other offers around intermediate housing and those who want to do co-ownership. We are taking forward all of that as part of the revitalisation programme. As I said, I want to present those firm proposals to the Executive before the end of this mandate. A programme board has been set up between the Department and the Housing Executive. We will be working with the Housing Executive, and staff will be working with trade unions. We will be working with housing experts as we start to bring forward firmed-up actions to deal with the housing crisis.

Photo of Nicola Brogan Nicola Brogan Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her answers and for the update on what she is doing to address social housing waiting lists in West Tyrone. How does the Minister plan to revitalise the Housing Executive?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Carál's statement in November of last year, when she was in this position, reflected on the need for revitalisation. As I said, and as Members are acutely aware, we have a decaying housing stock, and that is reflected in the fuel poverty targets as well. There is a huge need to deal with the financial strains on the Housing Executive, and that will be a critical part of the revitalisation work.

Another part of the financial issue is dealing with corporation tax, which we have now removed. Over the past seven years, almost £50 million that should have gone into homes was paid to the British Treasury. Fortunately, that has come to an end. We are trying to claw that money back to put it back into housing, but we will have it as a saving. It will go not just into maintaining the current Housing Executive stock but can hopefully be invested in future homes when the Housing Executive can build again. We have to remove the restriction on borrowing placed on the Housing Executive, as that is one of the biggest hurdles that it faces. As part of the revitalisation agenda, we want to make sure that it can borrow, that we deal with the issue of stock, and that we get it on a firm, sustainable financial footing.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

I thank the Minister for that detailed answer about housing stress in West Tyrone. The Minister is aware that Lagan Valley is probably one of the most popular places to live and to bring up a family. How does Lagan Valley compare with West Tyrone with regard to housing stress and need?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I do not have the exact figures for Lagan Valley, so I will not tell you that I do. However, I can have them sent to you.

We know that there is a crisis: more than 42,000 people are on the waiting list. That is going up and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We therefore need to change radically how we do housing. That was set out in the November statement, but it takes time to make those huge changes. They do not come overnight. The programme board is in place. I want to make sure that we deliver on the basis of need but that we also look at where growth may be in future. Therefore it will be crucial to work with local government and councils on their development plans.

Land and infrastructure become major issues when building new homes. We will start to look at those as part of the housing supply issue that I spoke about, which has highlighted challenges that were already there. I want to work with the Infrastructure Minister, whom I know is also interested in overcoming the challenges that we face.

I will follow up with a letter about the specific numbers for your area.