Social Housing

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 19th October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP 3:15 pm, 19th October 2021

T1. Ms P Bradley asked the Minister for Communities whether, given the extra £15 million due to the increased costs for new housing, which the Minister mentioned and which was in a statement, any extra money has been put into the existing housing stock, as one of her constituents has been waiting since May to get the keys for something she had agreed to and has now been told that it will be after Christmas before she can move in. (AQT 1661/17-22)

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Additional money was put into the Housing Executive budget and reserves in-year. I do not have all the details and figures with me. Changes are also being made in respect of corporation tax, and that money will be clawed back and put directly into the Housing Executive. Some of the delays are because of contractual issues in procurement, and those have had a knock-on effect. From a departmental point of view, the Housing Executive has had an increase in its budget: it is allowed to put the money that is going into its reserves directly into the maintenance of properties. I will send the exact figures to the Member.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

I thank the Minister for her answer. When we talk about health, we often hear about a postcode lottery, but we also have a postcode lottery in housing. I recently received figures for north Belfast. There are figures for "Belfast" and for "Newtownabbey 1", and people who live in Newtownabbey 1 wait twice as long for anything to do with rehousing. What can the Minister do to address the disparity not only across the country but within one constituency where housing can be so very different?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

First, the big issue is the supply of housing and making sure that we have a supply chain. We are looking at that in the housing strategy. There is another issue, and, when I came into the Department and looked at the housing development programme, I saw north Belfast as being a prime example of it: north Belfast is the area with the highest number of people on the list waiting for a home; but, when you look at the housing development programme, you see that areas with half the need got double the number of homes built in them.

Some would say that places such as north Belfast had issues with the availability of land, infrastructure and planning, but that is not good enough. One of the issues that I am looking at, which was listed in the housing statement, is reintroducing ring-fencing. That means looking at the housing development programme and ring-fencing the areas of highest need, including north Belfast, Foyle and west Belfast, to see whether we can have a focused, targeted piece of work in those areas. We want to increase the supply of homes across the board as well.

We also need to look at the housing sale schemes. Every year, on average, for every 1,800 homes that we build, we lose almost 500 through the right-to-buy scheme. I want to go out to consultation about that, and I am waiting for Executive approval to do that. I want to know what public opinion is on these areas. We need to look at bringing forward a number of the factors that were addressed in the housing statement: ring-fencing; the housing supply strategy, which we will consult on later this year; and the need to be more ambitious through increased capital investment in order to build more social housing in the time ahead.