Housing Crisis

Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 2 November 2021.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15, 2 November 2021

I beg to move

That this Assembly recognises the severe impact that the housing crisis, which has made housing unaffordable for many and placed home ownership out of reach for a generation of young people, has had on people and families across Northern Ireland; notes that the average price of housing in Northern Ireland has increased by 30% since 2016; further notes that the cost of renting has increased by 25% since 2016 and this is having a material impact on the capacity of people to save the deposit needed to secure a home; regrets that the First Minister and deputy First Minister have yet to publish a Programme for Government with a specific housing outcome, supplemented with relevant indicators; and calls on the Minister for Communities to increase the supply of social and affordable housing in recognition that the security of a home has an immediate impact on the health and well-being of citizens.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Business Committee has agreed to allow one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and a further 10 minutes to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I propose this SDLP motion on the deepening housing crisis, specifically the numbers of people who have been displaced from an increasingly costly private rented sector onto a shamefully long social housing waiting list, which now has 45,000 applicants. An overhaul of the housing system is required to ensure that every family and individual in the North can access a sustainable, affordable and safe home. Access to a safe and secure home is the foundation on which people build their lives. It is intertwined with health, education, mental well-being and job opportunities. There is not one policy area that housing does not affect. However, the current rate of social housing build is woefully inadequate. It is denying people the basic right to a roof over their head.

At present, there are almost 45,000 individuals and families in housing need, with nearly 31,000 of those determined to be in housing stress. A simple assessment of the situation means that, at the current rate of supply, it would take in excess of 34 years to clear the current waiting list. That wait will be even more profound for applicants with disabilities, considering that just 164 social housing bungalows were built in the past five years, despite over 8,000 applicants awaiting ground-floor accommodation. That is staggering. We cannot place further barriers on people with disabilities, especially when it comes to securing suitable housing that would permit some semblance of independence. The housing system as it stands is denying dignity to people and their families.

The housing crisis predates COVID and the Minister. The motion is not an attack on any person or party. It is clear that the crisis has deepened significantly over the past 18 months, as evidenced by the 25% increase in applications. My constituency of Foyle has the highest number of social housing applicants across the North, standing at over 4,500. That represents an increase of over 800 people during the pandemic. Housing is a historical issue here. It remains the case that many families and children are left without a place to call home or find themselves stuck in overcrowded properties that are wholly unsuitable to their needs.

Many have already given up hope of finding a home of their own.

Housing is yet another example of the deprivation that people here have had to endure. We are witnessing a new generation of children who believe that housing, rather than a basic right for all, is something that has to be fought for, tooth and nail. It is important that we never lose sight of the lives beyond the statistics. I have no doubt that many Members will have lost sleep over harrowing housing cases involving their constituents, particularly in recent months. I know that I have, and we are just listening to it; people are living it.

One example that comes to mind is a young, single mother who is a front-line health worker and who worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to care for COVID patients. She visited my office between shifts, exhausted and broken by the toll of the past year. Her young children have just about come to grips with their anxieties about their mum's safety at work, yet here she was, pleading for help as a private renter unable to meet rising rent costs. She was left with no option but to leave her home due to affordability issues. The children were split between the homes of family and friends. That young mother had no option but to resort to sofa surfing after long shifts at the hospital. Where is the fairness here? How can I tell that family, who have already been through so much, that they need to be patient, to build up their housing points and to hope and hope again that a property becomes available?

That case is far from unique, and the link between poverty and low-income renters is well established. The private rented sector in the North is the fastest growing across these islands, accounting for 19% of all housing here, with many being forced into the sector by a lack of social housing stock. It is important to note that single-parent families who are renting privately are the most at risk of poverty, disproportionately affecting women. They, too, will be more adversely impacted on by the cuts to universal credit, the local housing allowance cap and the economic impact of COVID — for example, working reduced hours or taking time off to care for children.

A Housing Executive report highlighted that private rented sector households in receipt of housing benefit were more at risk of poverty than social tenants — 56% compared with 41% — further underscoring the importance of protections for private renters, including addressing the wider issue of welfare support and identifying the most at-risk households in terms of fuel poverty. In the context of rising living costs, support mechanisms need to be stepped up in the time ahead to prevent poverty. All of this contributes to the loss of accommodation and pushes more and more people into homelessness.

I am sure that the Private Tenancies Bill will help, in part, to regulate the sector and provide wide-ranging protections, but it is imperative that that legislation is passed swiftly and is backed up with adequate welfare protections, including the now, almost mythical, bedroom tax mitigations and lifting the cap on the local housing allowance in order to reflect rising rental costs. That so many private renters have been forced into the sector in the first place because of insufficient housing stock is testament to the need for an urgent housing supply strategy for the North. Yet, as already outlined, tackling growing levels of housing need goes far beyond just building homes. The focus should be on creating sustainable and affordable tenancies. More than that, the Executive must do more to support the younger generation to get on to the property ladder.

Tackling this crisis demands creative thinking. The housing supply strategy and the Private Tenancies Bill will play their part, but drastic action must be taken before housing need spirals even further out of control. People have been waiting long enough, and vague words and promises mean little to those in need of a home. Co-ownership has been supported by the Executive as a means of helping people to afford new homes. We support that, but we think that more work needs to be done to explore which levers at our disposal can be creatively used to increase housing supply and reduce housing stress.

Previously, I raised the need for a mortgage support scheme. Many homeowners are struggling to pay their mortgage. We spent this morning discussing unsustainable increases in the cost of living and the economic carnage of COVID. By helping people to stay in their home, we will keep them off our ever-growing housing lists, and we will save families from the trauma of homelessness. I would like to hear from the Minister whether such a scheme has been considered or looked at and what work is being done to bring empty properties back to life as homes for families and individuals.

What work is being done to identify and eradicate abuse of the social housing system, where homes have been allocated but not occupied and, in some instances, even sublet? That practice does exist, and it is far from a victimless crime.

We welcome the Minister's stated commitment to, and vision for, housing. She deserves credit for that vision. We support the removal, which the Minister wants, of the impediments to the Housing Executive's building new homes. The right-to-buy scheme ended just last week for housing associations. We cannot afford to keep haemorrhaging scarce social housing stock. Will the Minister give us a wee update on her work to end the right to buy Housing Executive properties?

It is an indelible stain on the Executive's record that the Programme for Government, with a specific housing outcome, is yet to be published. It would have gone a long way to preventing homelessness and would have provided assurances during this precarious period. How can we tell families waiting in desperation that the leadership here has not seen fit to make it a priority?

Improving access to housing goes hand in hand with supporting mental well-being for our citizens. It needs to be a priority for this Executive and those hereafter as we emerge from the fog of COVID. We must unite to ensure that Executive strategies are as comprehensive as they need to be and that our institutions remain stable in order to deliver them and much-needed positive change. I ask Members to support the motion.

Photo of Ciara Ferguson Ciara Ferguson Sinn Féin 3:30, 2 November 2021

I support today's motion, which is fitting, given that it will be a year tomorrow that our Minister outlined in the Assembly the most ambitious and biggest shake-up of housing in the North since 1971, which is the biggest in my lifetime and, I think, in the lifetime of everybody present this afternoon.

Our Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, has not only laid the strong foundation for a much-needed revival of the housing sector but has made sure that we are all together, planning strategically for the future to ensure that every household has access to a good-quality, affordable and sustainable home appropriate to its needs.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it was Deirdre Hargey who not only stepped up to protect renters from eviction but introduced the first of many proposed pieces of legislation, in the form of the Private Tenancies Bill, which proposes not only to ban rent increases in annual contracts but to extend the notice-to-quit period for tenants, to reduce the cost of heating homes for families and workers, to prevent deposits being in excess of one month's rent, and to provide for electrical fire and carbon safety standards in the social and private rented sector. All of those are firm starting points on which we can all expand.

We will see the Housing Executive with the power to begin building homes again. Our Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, has allocated £162 million — the biggest housing budget in a decade — to the Housing Executive to build even more homes. Work has started on over 2,400 homes, smashing the building target by 30%. There has been increased support for co-ownership over the past year, and that has enabled the organisation to help an additional 400 families between last May and this coming March.

We currently have the Department for Communities' consultation on intermediate rents, which is looking at alternative avenues to home ownership that are genuinely accessible to and affordable for workers and families. In addition, the Department is leading on the development of the housing supply strategy, which our Minister is bringing to the Executive. The strategy will provide the long-term basis for sustainable improvements for the entire housing market, with a focus on equality, sustainability and increasing housing supply and housing options for those in greatest need.

Over almost the past two decades, the number of people in housing stress has risen by over 1,000 a year. The lack of social and affordable homes has had an impact on students, on young professionals, on workers unable to afford repairs to their homes, on families and on older, more-vulnerable groups and is driving more and more people into insecure, unsuitable accommodation.

The status quo is not an option, and Sinn Féin has been vocal in its support for a stand-alone, specific outcome on housing in the Programme for Government, supplemented with indicators to provide a continuous, specific focus on ensuring that every household has access to good, affordable and sustainable homes that are appropriate to their needs. That remains our position. That was a commitment in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA), and that remains the ask of our housing bodies, which work day and daily in the area, including Homeless Connect, Housing Rights and the Federation of Housing Associations.

The importance of constructive cross-collaboration in this area cannot be overemphasised, and the all-party group on homelessness, which was established this year and which I was delighted to be able to attend, showcases the importance of developing policy in the area with the lived experience of individuals and families experiencing housing difficulties and homelessness. That should be at the heart of everything that we do.

Tackling our housing crisis and ending homelessness for our most vulnerable citizens and for all must be a priority for every Member of the Assembly. Equality in housing cannot wait. It is a moral imperative and is fundamental to delivering a more equitable society post COVID.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

Housing is a fundamental. Where else can we go for safety if we cannot go home? There is an issue that every MLA in this place, either in the Chamber at the minute or outside it, must see when they are out and about meeting constituents and knocking doors, and that is the state of some of our housing. If you do not see that, you are spending too much time here. I see a stock that is deteriorating year in, year out. There have been positives. We can all talk about positives in our areas, and that is good, but so many are still left homeless because their home is not fit for purpose.

We talk a lot here about supporting health and spending on health. It is good, especially in the short term, that we can give more money to health so that people who use the health service get the service that they deserve, but what about spending money to keep people out of hospital? What about investing in people's welfare to make sure that they remain healthy so that they do not need the health service at that acute end? It sounds novel. We all talk about it, but do we do anything about it and do we really see action? It is hard to prove the value for money of preventative spend, but that does not mean that it is not worthwhile.

We need to get to the point where we serve people's interests best by spending money up front. One way to do that is to invest in housing and construction. There needs to be a concerted effort to do that. There is absolutely no doubt about that. Mark Durkan, who moved the motion, said that it would not be an attack on anyone. To be fair, I agree with him in that regard. Housing is such a fundamental issue that it should be an Executive-wide issue and should be part of the Programme for Government. There are so many items and issues that impinge on housing, not least the water and sewerage capacity problem that we all face at present.

I want to talk about the positives in my constituency of North Antrim, particularly Ballymena, where, over the last number of years, we have seen advancements in brownfield sites in our town centre and have had social housing built. However, that leads to another problem that affects people's standard of living when they move into the houses. There is something fundamentally flawed in our housing allocation system whereby, when we build a new block of social houses — flats, apartments or whatever they may be — we allocate those homes all at once, take the top names from the list and move everyone in at the same time. It is not an easy subject to talk about, but I see the ramifications of that daily. If you move someone off the top of the list into a settled area, the chances are that that person will settle. If you move 30, 40 or 50 families or people into a brand new complex, in many cases, there will be hell to pay for years until that community settles down. We all know the reasons for that.

When I speak to housing associations and the Housing Executive, they all tell me the same thing: they are sick to the back teeth of protests about how houses are allocated. Something must change to give those people — those law-abiding people who just happen to need accommodation — the chance of a new, safe and secure home in a safe environment. I am not seeing that for the people whom I represent.

Photo of Andy Allen Andy Allen UUP

It will be no surprise to Members across the House that I will speak in support of the motion tabled by the Member opposite and his colleagues. I thank them for bringing this important motion to the House.

There are times in the House when, as parties, we do not all agree, whether that is on the goings-on at the Executive about the universal credit uplift and what happened behind the scenes etc or what is happening with the blockade on welfare mitigations being discussed. However, we can all agree on our endeavours to support the most vulnerable across our society. We can also agree that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. I have heard the Minister acknowledge that on many occasions. She has not shirked her responsibility in admitting that, and I welcome the initiatives that she has taken forward in her short time in the Department to tackle the spiralling housing waiting lists.

There are 2,500 households on the housing waiting list in my constituency of East Belfast. Of those, 1,500 are deemed to be in housing stress. If we put that in the context of Northern Ireland, with that figure being replicated across every constituency bar maybe three or four where the number is nearly double, it equates to 45,000 households on our social housing waiting list. Some 31,267 households were deemed to be in housing stress as of 30 September this year.

The Minister will recognise the following comment from the Adjournment debate that we had in the House two weeks ago. During that debate, I asked whether the figure of 45,000 households on our housing waiting list was the true reality. I do not believe that it is, and I will tell Members why. A number of months ago, I posed a question for written answer to the Department for Communities to ask how many individuals had been taken off our housing waiting list. The Department revealed that 28,000 households had been taken off the waiting list due to the Housing Executive receiving no reply to a renewal reminder. In a follow-up question for written answer, I sought to ascertain how many of the applicants who had been taken off subsequently reapplied. The answer was 7,000. That leaves 21,000 people who gave up on our flawed and failed housing system because they recognised that it would not house them and their families.

I speak about that system daily with constituents who have been on the housing waiting list for years upon years with no prospect of being housed. Those individuals feel that they have been driven, with no other choice, to the private rented sector, where there are increasing costs. We spoke earlier in the House about the increasing cost of living. That is acute and real for many across our constituencies, and many families and individuals have to top up their rent with their social security payments.

I pose this question to the Minister about the welfare reform mitigations and, moreover, the loopholes: does the Department have any statistics or figures? I emphasise that those statistics and figures relate to individuals and families who have lost their home as a result of our inability to close those loopholes. Is that being monitored, and can the Minister advise whether we know if anyone has lost their home due to our inability to close the loopholes?

During the Adjournment debate, I posed another question. I did not get a suitable answer to it, so I will pose it again. It was about constituents engaging with the Housing Executive, and I am sure that it will resonate with Members. I put it on the record that the Housing Executive staff and teams at every level do tremendous work in difficult circumstances and with limited resources to deliver houses. When individuals approach the Housing Executive's housing officer for a particular area, however, they are often advised that the turnaround in that area is very low — there are hugely sought-after areas where turnaround is low — and that naturally leads them to revise their areas of choice. When a housing association approaches the Housing Executive to determine housing need in an area, the information is skewed and is not reflective of the reality. Is that situation monitored? Will we look at that flawed approach to assessing where there is housing need?

The Member touched on the constituents who have come into his constituency office. I am sure that we could all point to similarities across our constituency offices and report how overjoyed we were for constituents whom we managed to support —.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:45, 2 November 2021

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Andy Allen Andy Allen UUP

I close my remarks.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

On behalf of Alliance, I confirm that we will support the motion, and we thank the SDLP for tabling it. I suspect that the whole House will support the motion.

Earlier today, the Minister for Communities confirmed that she will take forward a housing outcome. I welcome that — why would I not? All five parties of the Executive agreed that there would be a housing outcome in New Decade, New Approach negotiations. Given how vital an issue housing is for all citizens across Northern Ireland, it is astonishing that we do not already have a specific housing outcome. I am not surprised, however, that the Executive Office has not brought forward a new Programme for Government this close to the end of a mandate. I expect that, after negotiation, the new Programme for Government will be brought forward by the next Executive. Truthfully, I believe that we will have the current draft Programme for Government until the new mandate and until the new Programme for Government is negotiated. That means that I do not expect a housing outcome to be introduced before the pre-election period, from the end of March. That is just my honest opinion.

On the cost of housing, we all know that the cost of a house has increased. The increase has placed that option out of the scope of many who are trying to get on the homeowner ladder. There is an issue with co-ownership. Co-Ownership's website confirms the types of properties for which people can access support. It confirms, for instance, that you cannot buy a one-bedroom home using co-ownership: surely, with the bedroom tax situation, you should be able to buy a one-bedroom home. Moreover, you cannot buy through co-ownership incomplete homes or homes that do not front onto an adopted road: in my constituency, that basically refers to every new build that is happening. We need to review that to see whether Co-ownership can offer support when people need it.

The increase in rental costs is placing more and more people in debt just to rent a home. Thankfully, the Department, the Minister and the Committee for Communities are working on the Private Tenancies Bill, which seeks to cap deposits and limit how often rental increases can happen. It is likely that we will work to limit the amount of rent to be paid in advance. That work will help to deal with some of the issues that groups such as Renters' Voice have brought forward.

I fully support the Minister's work to protect renters from eviction during the pandemic, and that protection is in place until May 2022. What happens after that? If the Private Tenancies Bill passes in time and Royal Assent is secured, there may be a longer notice period, but, as the definition of homelessness will stay the same, people being evicted — even with notice — who cannot access another place to live will not be defined as homeless until they are four weeks away from having to sofa surf, go to a shelter or sleep in their car.

To stop the housing crisis, we need an effective housing supply strategy and action plan. We need effective area planning and community plans. That means local government working with the housing sector to ensure that need is met and housing is planned to develop community and enable access to public services. We also need our local planning offices to progress planning applications within time limits and not with the years of delay that we currently have. We need to reform the Housing Executive, which has been mentioned, sort out the points system and decide what mechanism will be used to allocate social homes.

We need to consider whether homes are able to adapt to society's changing needs. More citizens present with housing crisis in their later years or when they need adaptations to suit their disability. We need homes designed to suit all life, not part of life. The housing supply strategy must embrace the agreements already made to ensure that shared housing is prioritised.

Homes should be a safe place for every citizen, not only for some citizens. Homes should be available to everyone, not only to some people, because areas are presumed to be of one culture or another. We have a housing crisis, and we have a lot of work to do. I support the motion and call for action on the housing crisis to be moved forward quickly.

Photo of Áine Murphy Áine Murphy Sinn Féin

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. I am in no doubt that there is consensus in the Chamber that we need to address the housing crisis, which has worsened year-on-year.

The cost of rent and property has skyrocketed over the past number of years, putting low-income families, young people and workers under serious pressure when trying to secure a home. Those individuals cannot depend solely on the Housing Executive. In many situations, they will be placed on waiting lists until a home becomes available. As a result, many can be plunged further into debt as they pay extortionate rent just to have a roof over their head. There is also a risk, unfortunately, that some may become homeless. In November 2020, in order to tackle that problem, Carál Ní Chuilín, as interim Minister for Communities, outlined a sweeping transformation plan to overhaul the North's housing system. That was the first radical and robust approach taken in relation to housing in 50 years. That project was required due to outdated housing stock, poorly maintained existing stock, increase in demand and lack of new builds.

Last year, Minister Hargey oversaw the commencement of 2,400 new homes, smashing the current house-building target by 30%. That is a prime example of the Minister's commitment and steadfastness in relation to this project. The Minister also recognises that tweaking around the edges will just not cut it. She is to be commended for her ambition and leadership.

This body of work requires cooperation and support from all of us. Sinn Féin is on record as supporting a stand-alone, specific housing outcome in the Programme for Government, to be accompanied by indicators that provide a specific focus on ensuring that each household has the ability to access good, affordable and sustainable housing that is appropriate to its needs. We will not be found wanting when it comes to that being included in the Programme for Government, and I therefore conclude by offering my support for the motion.

Photo of Stephen Dunne Stephen Dunne DUP

Access to a safe, secure and fit-for-purpose home is a basic and fundamental human right. However, a roof over our head is much more than just that: it is vital to the physical, mental and emotional well-being of adults and children who, without a stable, safe and comfortable home, are less likely to succeed academically, more likely to end up in poorly paid employment, potentially be led into a life of crime and even to suffer from a higher mortality rate. Those are some of the things that define the importance of adequate and suitable housing. In short, the lack of a stable home environment, which affordable housing can provide, can impact all aspects of a person's life and, in turn, can have a catastrophic effect on society as a whole, putting a significant strain on our economy, community welfare and physical and mental health. Indeed, my colleague Mr Frew touched on that and on getting priorities right so that housing has a knock-on effect, so reducing the impact on our health service. The cost to the NHS of dealing with issues resulting from inadequate housing conditions is estimated to be around £40 million a year.

As the motion states, the supply of social and affordable housing in Northern Ireland needs to be increased. The average price of housing here has increased by 30% since 2016, with the average house price now over £153,400. For so many people, that is simply unaffordable, and many people are struggling to make the first step onto the property ladder. That was the case even before the pandemic began, but the pandemic has obviously had an even greater negative impact on those trying to get onto the ladder. Meeting deposit requirements is another considerable challenge. I understand that only one local bank in Northern Ireland currently offers the 5% deposit scheme and that that is only on new builds, not resales.

The cost of renting has also greatly increased, with an estimate of around 25%. That hinders many young people saving for that all-important deposit, as that money is simply used for rental payments.

Private lets are also in short supply, and we have seen examples of landlords cashing in on ever-rising property prices, which, obviously, has had an impact. Rents are rising by 5·7%, and many simply cannot afford to rent privately, turning instead to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, an organisation that is simply unable to meet demand.

During 2019-2020, over 4,500 people were placed in temporary accommodation here. In 2020-21, that figure had risen to over 9,700. Unfortunately, those figures will only get worse. Daily, my constituency office, like those of so many other Members from across the Chamber and beyond, hears heartbreaking stories of families living in one room, multiple children sharing a bedroom and people with mobility issues being unable to negotiate stairs. They are desperate to secure a more suitable property to meet their needs. Many homes are simply not fit for purpose, with a never-ending waiting list for work to be done. Damp and mould continue to be a real problem across the Housing Executive's stock, and more innovative ways from the Minister are needed to tackle it, including improved insulation and energy efficiency measures.

Often, families find it impossible to stay in the area in which they were brought up. They simply cannot afford to purchase a home in an area where no suitable social housing is available. In August of this year, it was reported that the Housing Executive had a backlog of over £500 million of repairs and maintenance waiting to be carried out. Add to this the current trend of landlords selling on properties from under the feet of private tenants to cash in on the property boom, and we have a real recipe for disaster, leading to many families having serious mental health issues and even breakdowns. As I mentioned, improving the energy efficiency of homes and tackling fuel poverty must be a key priority for the Minister, and we need to see action on that, not simply words.

The pandemic has hit hard, and its effects on jobs and livelihoods will be long lasting. A more permanent remedy must be sought to protect our most vulnerable. We need to look at improving existing stock and at acquiring existing residential and non-residential properties to add to that stock. We need to see real investment that also provides key economic opportunities, not just in the construction sector but across many other sectors. Our housing crisis is not just the result of COVID-19. We are in this desperate state because of a lack of investment or strategic planning from the Minister and a lack of provision of adequate social housing over many years.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Stephen Dunne Stephen Dunne DUP

Yes. Longer-term solutions are needed, and we need action.

Photo of Cara Hunter Cara Hunter Social Democratic and Labour Party

Having tabled the motion, alongside my colleagues, I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. Over a third of young people around my age — between the ages of 20 and 34 — still live at home with their parents, often moving back because of soaring rents, financial hardship or lack of economic opportunity to save for a mortgage deposit for their first home. I truly believe that we are entering dangerous waters for the future of our young people. In my constituency of East Derry, in the past year, only 58 social houses were completed against a backdrop of 2,538 applicants. Those statistics are worrying and show the scale of the problem that we face, given our growing population, and we know that it will only get worse.

I have been contacted by many constituents across East Derry and, indeed, across the North about housing, as have other Members. Those constituents have different jobs, ages and backgrounds. They are renters, buyers, homeowners and people who are still having to live with their parents. Housing is the number one area that the caseworkers in my office are contacted about. Many constituents are trying to get social housing as a result of being handed a notice to quit after their landlord decided to sell the house during the pandemic. It is of the utmost importance that we increase the housing stock to tackle the long and ever-extending waiting lists that people here are facing.

The average value of housing has increased dramatically, especially over the past 12 months. In the two council areas in my constituency, for example, we have seen prices in the Causeway Coast and Glens area increase by 16·9%, which is nearly 17%, and, in Derry City and Strabane, there has been an increase of nearly 6%. Many tenants across Northern Ireland are being evicted by landlords who wish to sell up, with my constituency office receiving many phone calls from worried constituents, especially those with small children. They have a fear of becoming homeless, and they really have nowhere to turn, as was eloquently put by my colleague.

In places such as Portrush and Portstewart, areas that are more popular with tourists, local people are being pushed out of the town where they spent their childhood by landlord greed, spiralling rents and the lack of available affordable social housing. They are being priced out of their own communities.

I am a Portrush resident, but, on the wider north coast, in areas such as Castlerock, Portstewart, Portballintrae and even Benone, we are seeing an influx of second homeowners who rent out their property in the tourist season and are pushing local people away from their town. There are no affordable homes for local residents. Communities here are being eroded. Families are being forced to split and live in different towns. The SDLP believes that we can and must do better.

It is deeply worrying and disturbing to see the impact of the housing crisis on young people across Ireland, with the average cost of a rental in 2021 being £729. How are young people meant to be convinced to stay here when housing prices are continuing on an upward trend?

According to Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) statistics for 2021, the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area had the lowest earnings of all local government districts, with employees earning just £452 a week, compared with £618 a week in Belfast, meaning that the area with the highest increase in housing prices is the area with the lowest wages and wage growth in Northern Ireland.

I am truly worried for the health and well-being of my constituents who have the threat of insecure tenure and homelessness hanging over their head. We are staring down the long road of a mental health crisis that already exists here, and the added pressures of unaffordable housing will have an impact on the overall health and well-being of all who live here.

I hope that, with this motion, the Assembly finally recognises the housing crisis that we face. As an Assembly, we can all work together to give our young people here the chance to go from a place in which they just live to a place that they can call home.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 4:00, 2 November 2021

I thank the Member opposite for bringing the motion to the Chamber, and I welcome it. When I come to the House, there is one thing for which I am always thankful, and that is corporate memory, because it seems as though some people have very short memories. Although I would prefer not to make it a political issue, let us face up to some realities.

Some truths have to be told to some new Members who make glowing statements about "cross-collaboration" or who say, "Let us all work together to achieve an outcome". That is very funny, because the current Minister's party had no interest in working together when I was Minister for housing. Probably the happiest but most challenging days that I spent in this House were when I had the privilege of being the Minister for housing. The greatest challenge that I faced, however, was obstruction, denial and delay from the party opposite. The Savills report told us what investment was needed in our housing stock. When the party opposite decided to pull down this place for three years, it was not interested in housing. I was still working as a constituency MLA, and I wrote to the then permanent secretary, Leo O'Reilly, in 2018. In a letter to me, he said that it would take £3 billion of investment over 11 years to deal with the maintenance backlog, so let us not take the view that somehow the problem has crept up on us.

Fifty years ago, nationalists were complaining about poor housing, but so were unionists. It is an indictment of us collectively that it is 2021 yet there are people living in absolute squalor and people who cannot even get houses. Why therefore was there a delay? Let us go to that issue. Remember that the Speaker of the House, who was in the Chair earlier, was Minister in the Department for Social Development. He said in 2012:

"We must use whatever financial levers we can to increase supply to those most in need."

When I became Minister in 2014, he was the very person who obstructed the financial arrangements to change the model to give the Housing Executive the money that it needed to do the required work. Why? Because it did not suit Sinn Féin at the time.

Now, because there is an election — sooner rather than later, I hope — it wants to convince its people that it has done something about housing. It is time that Sinn Féin, as a party, faced up to the reality that it has let people down in Londonderry, west Belfast and other parts of the country, because it has failed. Now what does it want? It wants addressing that need to be a stand-alone issue for the Executive. It is time that that party came clean.

It must also come clean on another issue. Where does it stand with regard to housing associations? When I was Minister, I went with two Members from West Belfast to visit houses in their constituency. The ones that they showed me that were good examples were those that belonged to housing associations. However, housing associations are the very thing that the party opposite has problems and difficulties with.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Member will recall that he and I visited a new rural housing association scheme out at Derrymore and saw the splendid work that was being done on fuel poverty and being built into sustainable houses at that time.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Thank you. I welcomed that opportunity. I said the same thing then as I say now: it is not one size fits all. It will take a combination of the private sector, the Housing Executive, housing associations and various other methods and means to ensure that we deliver good-quality homes for the people of Northern Ireland. I had the great joy of going to see the Apex scheme in the city of Londonderry, where we saw many houses that had been built in that city. However, I have to say that the party opposite bears huge responsibility for years of delay. It is time now to end the rhetoric, denial and delay. Let us see the Minister's plan. We will assess the plan and determine whether it is good for Northern Ireland plc and for housing.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP

I had not intended to speak in the debate, so this will probably be more of a long intervention than a five-minute speech. I was just provoked by something that Mr Frew said. Before I get to it, however, I endorse what my colleague Andy Allen said and absolutely support the motion. There is a crisis in social housing, and we need to act on it. What I do not get is the bedroom tax and social sizing. If you are building a house, you need a kitchen, living space, a bathroom and a bedroom. It seems to me that a second bedroom is not a big spend. It does not require a great percentage to put on a second bedroom, but it adds huge flexibility to how the social housing can be used over the course of its lifetime.

The point that I want to make is that Mr Frew said something interesting, which was that we should invest in construction. I absolutely agree with him. However, the thought that I had was of gender budgeting. I do not have the figures in front of me, but it has been clearly established that if you spend, say, 1% of your GDP on construction, the vast majority of the jobs that you create will be for men. Conversely, if you put that 1% of GDP into social care, the vast majority of jobs that you create will be for women.

While I absolutely support the Minister if she is moving to address the social housing crisis, I ask that she does it not in isolation, but encourages her Executive colleagues to think about the impact of gender budgeting and, perhaps, the need to balance the investment in construction with investment in something like social care, so that the gender budgeting implications are addressed and there is fair distribution of job creation between men and women.

Photo of Paula Bradshaw Paula Bradshaw Alliance

Like my party colleague Kellie Armstrong, I rise to support the motion. I will come at it from a slightly different angle, mainly that of health and well-being, as referenced at the end of the motion.

Many Members have already outlined issues with the supply of housing and the need to build more homes. That is true. It is pertinent to note that, while housing has become a significant issue across the border, it is not prioritised as much in public debate here. I cannot help but think that that is because, here, the impact is felt predominantly in social housing, rather than there being a sense that people are being priced out of the market to the same degree. Nevertheless, a quick glance at average wages and average house prices suggests that, even here, there is no room for complacency.

For me, an additional consideration arises from the opportunities that we are wasting in our supposedly integrated health and social care system. In the past few years, some of the English city regions, notably Greater Manchester, have taken steps to integrate health and social care. By integration, they do not mean stopping at providing health and social care services from one department; they mean integrating them to the extent that health and welfare become part of the same package. That is pertinent when we consider that the issue with housing in Northern Ireland is not only that we need more of it but that it needs to be better quality.

Even something as apparently basic as dampness or poor insulation can have a significant impact on health and well-being. In Greater Manchester, the integrated system means that, in primary care, a specific housing intervention can be prescribed. In other words, housing is not just a service to be provided but a real extension of well-being. It should not be hard to replicate that in a small area such as Northern Ireland. However, it will mean getting on with it. It may be necessary to find ways of more quickly converting brownfield sites for new housing, for example, thereby renovating and reinvigorating locations.

Fundamentally, I am talking about a resident-first approach with a focus on well-being, particularly since the approach of the Programme for Government is supposed to be outcomes-based. We should set out to accomplish it urgently; there would be significant benefits from it.

Photo of Clare Bailey Clare Bailey Green

I support the motion, but I also put on record the fact that housing has not been an issue only for nationalists and unionists; it has been an issue for all of us. Mr Nesbitt quite rightly points out the flexibilities that having a second bedroom can give, but we also need to be cognisant that the welfare reform legislation that went through, supported by many in the House, removed that flexibility from a lot of people.

I will not go over points that have been made. I urge the Executive to commit to developing legislation for a Northern Ireland-specific rent control scheme. We cannot continue to run the risk of becoming like Dublin or London, where increasing numbers of people are priced out of the city and long-established working-class community areas become gentrified.

I do not believe that everyone should want to own their own home. I am a renter; I am a social housing tenant. I was one of the A1 priorities that were mentioned. I was at the top of the list. I was resettled absolutely fine, but it was a lengthy, bruising and torturous process.

Our long-established communities who already face the chronic shortage of housing will be further impacted when landlords realise that they can make a heftier profit if they rent to students or young professionals rather than people from within those communities. Market forces mean that private rental is sold as a great boost to people to help with their pension incomes. It is a wee bit brutal when pensions are under attack and are dwindling. It is sometimes hard to blame people for going for that model, but housing is a human right, not an economic lever. Let us understand that and wake up to the encroachment that we are allowing to happen and that is putting so many people at risk.

Knowing that, the Green Party supports rent control measures. For those who are unaware, rent controls are government regulations that limit the rent that a landlord can charge. Policies can come in different forms, and regulations might include capping annual rent increases so that they do not increase beyond a given figure, preventing landlords from increasing rent during a tenancy, and creating a rent ceiling or upper limit that specifies the maximum rent for a property to let. Rent controls are not a new phenomenon. For example, the private rental market in the UK was regulated for most of the last century, the last regulations having been abolished in 1989. Paris caps rents so that they cannot be 20% more than an area's average. In February 2020, Berlin introduced a five-year rent cap for all apartments built prior to 2014.

I am aware that the rent-to-buy scheme will be ended next August.

While the Minister is here, I take the opportunity to let her know that I have received the written notification from my housing provider. It is good news that the notifications are going out. Hopefully, that measure will go some way to stemming the loss of public housing into private ownership. It is bizarre that we spend public money building public housing that we sell off at a lower value into private ownership, and there is no requirement for the public stock to be replaced: that needs to stop.

How are rent rates set in public bodies? When we talk about "affordable housing", what do we mean? I am not aware of any public or private rental rates that are set using an average income rate. How bizarre is that? As far as I am aware, all rents are set in accordance with the market value. Well, the market value is unaffordable and unsustainable, and using that as a measure for something that is a human right needs to stop. Human rights should never be a commodity, but that is exactly what is happening, and it is happening under our watch.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 4:15, 2 November 2021

I now call the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey, to respond to the debate. The Minister has 15 minutes.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I thank the contributors to the debate. I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion.

I am aware of the housing crisis that we face, and many Members have discussed that crisis today. Indeed, I have not shied away from saying that it is a housing crisis. Members will recall the statement that was made, almost a year ago to the day, outlining plans to address the challenges that we face in our system. Those included looking at the housing stress, increasing the supply of social and affordable homes and looking at the change in population going forward.

Previously, I outlined how I will deliver on the challenges. That included proposals for legislative and structural change, which may transform how we address the housing need. My ambition is to ensure that every household has access to good-quality, affordable and sustainable housing that meets its needs appropriately. I am pulling out all the stops to get more homes built in every area where there is a housing need. Tackling housing stress is my top priority.

Last year, 2,403 social housing units were started; the highest figure in a decade. During the same period, 1,318 social housing units were completed, and that exceeded the target of 1,200. I have secured an investment budget from the Finance Minister for new social housing. This financial year, I have made £162 million available, and that is an increase of £26 million on the previous year's budget.

I am considering what policy changes are needed to increase the capacity of the social housing development programme. I will reintroduce ring-fencing to ensure that areas of acute housing need are prioritised. I am working with housing associations, and I have encouraged them to identify land that is available for social housing. I am also conducting an exercise to identify surplus public land that could be used for social housing developments. Again, that is where councils, through their local development plans, can play a key role in making sure that the targets around social and affordable housing are met. I know that some people in councils — I am glad that is a minority — did not want any minimum threshold. However, we need the threshold to be at 20% or up at 30% to 40%, at least, as a minimum.

The COVID pandemic has impacted the construction industry and the cost of materials. To ensure that we protect the delivery of new social housebuilding programmes, I have recently approved a mid-year review to increase the cost to allow those projects to continue. That will take account of the increased costs that are affecting contractors on newly tendered schemes. Housing associations can claim for increased costs between April and September of this year for schemes that are already on-site or tendered.

I will also continue to help people into homeownership, if that is their choice, through the support for shared ownership schemes such as Co-Ownership. Co-Ownership has helped more than 30,000 families into homeownership. It is currently assisting well over 1,000 people a year to purchase their first home. Over the four years to 2024, I will have provided £158 million of financial transactions capital loan funding to Co-Ownership. That will help to deliver more than 4,400 homes under that successful scheme. That includes £13 million that was allocated in January this year to assist those who were negatively impacted by tighter lending conditions as a result of the pandemic.

More needs to be done to provide people with a greater range of affordable housing choices. My Department published the definition of affordable housing in April 2021. The changes are designed to facilitate a greater range of affordable housing products and to support the delivery of mixed-tenure developments as a key area of focus for councils in their local development plans. I launched a consultation on the delivery of one new such product: intermediate rent. The consultation sets out my proposals to deliver a new supply of affordable housing for rent, offering homes that are affordable for lower-income people and families.

Meeting the challenges posed by our housing crisis requires us to do more, deliver more social and affordable homes and protect the homes that we have. In June 2020, the Assembly passed legislation to end the house sale schemes for housing associations, and that will come into effect in August 2022. Members were written to in October 2021, informing them of the change. I remain committed to launching a consultation on the future of the house sale schemes, addressing the need to do much more within the Housing Executive stock as well. I put this proposal to the Executive, and it has not progressed. I am calling for the proposal to be progressed so that I can put it out to consultation.

Members are also aware of the huge and long-standing investment challenges faced by the Housing Executive.

A Member:

Will the Minister give way?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I will give way at the end. Sorry, I want to make sure that I finish what I have here.

My officials and the Housing Executive continue to work in partnership and at pace to provide me with advice to enable me to bring a recommendation to the Executive by March 2022 on how to tackle the challenge. We need to make the private rented sector a more sustainable option, and, indeed, that sector was one of our most urgent areas of intervention as the pandemic hit. An emergency Bill was drafted, from a blank piece of paper, and passed in the Assembly in less than five weeks, to extend the protections around the notice to quit. Indeed, I have extended those again until May 2022.

I am bringing forward new legislation to improve the safety, security and quality of the private rented sector, and I put the needs of tenants at the heart of this approach. Private renters should have access to good, affordable homes, with peace of mind over the length and conditions of their rental contract. There needs to be improved health and safety in order to keep families and people safe, and I want to see restrictions on rent increases and to extend the notice-to-quit period so that we protect tenants when it comes to evictions.

The Bill includes a clause to alter the notice period up to a maximum of six months, and my officials are exploring ways to make better use of private rented homes, examining the potential for long-term leasing schemes in the private rented sector. That will allow tenants to avail themselves of longer tenancies in better, well-maintained homes, with tenancy support services available when they need them.

I prioritised an action to improve our response to homelessness. Our future homelessness policy continues to build on the lessons learned in how we have dealt with the pandemic. That will include a roll-out of an interdepartmental homelessness action plan, and it will continue to support the Housing Executive to deliver on its statutory responsibility for responding to homelessness.

I am pleased that I was able to secure an additional £9·3 million this year to continue the public health response for the very vulnerable groups. That will allow the Housing Executive to continue to deliver actions in its COVID reset plan, which was published in November 2020. The plan sets out a framework to build on the lessons learned since March 2020, while also considering the wider strategic impacts. Work continues on the development of the new homelessness strategy to take us from 2022 to 2027, with a public consultation set to be launched this month.

Housing is an integrated system, as many have said. That means that the impacts on one or more parts of the system — for instance, restrictions on private housebuilding — impact on need and demand in other areas. It also means that the barriers to increasing the supply of social and intermediate homes are much the same as those affecting housing supply more broadly. My Department leads on the development of a housing supply strategy. That will focus on those whole-system issues that act as a barrier to the supply of housing. It will also consider the wider issues of quality, sustainability and affordability in the context of changing demographics and household formation trends. The strategy will provide the long-term basis for sustainable improvements across the entire housing market but with a specific focus on equality and an increase in housing supply and housing options for those in greatest need.

The consultation on the strategy will come forward before the end of this year.

I have covered a number of important issues. Some are deep, underlying issues that have been there for many years, if not decades. I am taking on the challenges through the most radical transformation of our housing system in over 50 years. Tackling our housing crisis requires collaboration across government. Today's debate highlights the need for a stand-alone housing outcome in the Programme for Government. It was discussed in the other debate, but the right to a home is fundamental. A house impacts on many other things. I support the housing sector and those campaigners in having a stand-alone outcome. My position on that is known. I have raised it at the Executive, I will continue to raise it, and I have put it in writing as part of the draft Programme for Government outcomes framework.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I will give way in a minute, once I finish, and there is a bit of time. Sorry.

I have also spoken to the deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill. She, too, has confirmed her support. Indeed, she has told me that she has signed off on the Programme for Government outcomes framework that was brought forward by officials. That Programme for Government document has been through numerous departmental discussions, stakeholder engagements and consultation exercises. It represents not only a ministerial and departmental road map but one that has been endorsed by wider civic society and a range of stakeholders. I know from speaking to the deputy First Minister that she has clearly and publicly set out that position in Executive meetings.

I know the proposers' intent in respect of housing, but, if they speak to their Minister, they will hear that Nichola knows what has been raised and said at the Executive meetings. That means that one area is being blocked from being brought forward by one part of the Executive Office. Rather than trying to promote the false narrative that it is being blocked by two sides of the House, we should work collectively to ensure that our people benefit from a quality housing policy and improved rights for all. I call on the Programme for Government and my consultation on the right to buy scheme to be brought to the Executive for decisions.

I have a bit of time, so I will address some other issues. I have covered the housing supply strategy and said that we will go out to consultation on that soon. My proposal for a consultation on the right to buy scheme has been with the Executive for a number of months, but it has not made it on to the agenda. If you look at the issues, you will see an obvious trend.

I move now to prioritising health. I agree that health and housing have to work together. There has been greater working together throughout the pandemic. A memorandum of understanding was signed by Robin and me, but it ends in December. I want that to continue and to be broadened beyond the pandemic. Last week, I visited a homeless accommodation facility in south Belfast. You can clearly see the links between housing and health, particularly around addiction and the wider wrap-around support. I want to continue to work with the Health Minister to make sure that we are addressing those issues collectively.

Issues were raised around the allocation and points system. Members will know that, when I was off, my predecessor, Carál, brought forward changes to the points system. Eighteen of the 20 recommendations were approved. Work to put the systems in place for those changes to take effect is ongoing with the Housing Executive. Some will start to be rolled out next year, and that work will continue shortly after that.

I do not have the specific details or targets on the loopholes. However, the longer that the mitigations and loopholes cannot be closed, the longer that people will be impacted. I have asked the Executive that that be placed on the agenda for decision, not discussion, at this Thursday's Executive meeting.

I move now to gender and budgeting. Obviously, I am responsible for developing the gender strategy. We have looked at gender budgeting and participatory budgeting, and I have looked at the sectors. It is not just a case of putting more money or resources into social care. It is about fixing the terms and conditions within social care. Not only are many who work there female but it is the lowest-paid sector. You can look at that and track it across. A number of months ago, I attended a Housing Executive presentation with the Human Rights Commission, which was looking at gender in apprenticeships. The higher-paid apprenticeships are predominantly in male-orientated sectors. That is what needs to change.

I completely agree, but we need to change the fundamentals. I am more than happy to look at that in the time ahead.

A comment was made about the institutions. It is critical for housing, because, when it comes to how budgets are allocated or decisions are taken, discrimination of any sort needs to end. There should not be political interference that tries to discriminate in public policy


Mervyn, I get on with you, but you are a different person in the Chamber from what you are in the corridor, truth be told. I am more than happy to have a conversation with anybody —.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

When I am finished. I am more than happy to have a conversation with anybody who comes to me, but very few of you have come to me. Some have — I will give them that — but few MLAs have asked to sit down with me to discuss housing. You wait until you come to the Chamber to say anything. I know that many of you are genuine about it, but come and speak to me as well.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I ask the Minister to draw her remarks to a close.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

The proposer of the motion said that he did not want the debate to be political. I totally agree with that, but he then went outside and did a video and made it political. Again, straight after raising it —


Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

I have no problem with being held to account —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Minister's time is up.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

— but work with me and be open and genuine about it.


Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP


I call Dolores Kelly to conclude and make a winding-up speech on the debate on the motion. The Member has 10 minutes.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for being present for the debate and all Members who contributed. From Members' contributions, the linkages between housing and good health outcomes for everyone are clear, and, owing to the changing demographics of society here, there is a need for much more diverse housing accommodation for people who are older, those who have disabilities and those who are part of the boomerang generation, if Cara Hunter does not mind my saying that. As the parent of someone from that generation, I am familiar with the difficulties that young people have in getting an affordable home, whether that is to rent or to buy.

Across all constituencies, in the past weeks and months, we increasingly find people presenting as homeless because landlords are taking advantage of rising house prices. Only the other week, I had a family in with me who had been given until just after Christmas to find a new home. The Member for Upper Bann across the Chamber will know that there are not many places left to rent in the Upper Bann constituency, yet we have huge public land ownership. We have stacks of land in the centre of Craigavon, in the Brownlow area in particular, on which we could build homes. Despite 2,908 families and individuals on the waiting list last year in our constituency, only four homes were built.

I say to the Minister that, as an elected representative, I have regular meetings with the Housing Executive. I place on record my thanks to its staff, because many of them work tirelessly and are passionate about finding good homes for people. I also place on record my thanks to Housing Rights, because I am sure that I avail myself of its services on a weekly basis as I seek advice on how best to advocate on behalf of my constituents. Often, it picks up our slack by providing advice and making available legal services.

COVID has taught us all about the value of having a good home and having a bit of space in the garden and in the house. There is the old saying about your home being your castle. Many Members spoke about the need for people to feel safe and secure in their home. That is true.

I did not think that I would ever say this in the public domain, but I was glad of Mr Storey's intervention, because I was beginning to think that I was living in a parallel universe in which we did not have three years of collapse of the Assembly with no decisions on health, education and waiting lists. We heard earlier about the crisis in our health service. We now hear about the crisis in housing. We had three years, however, in which housing did not drive people back to the Chamber or back around the Executive table.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

To clarify, I am the same person in here as I am out there. I am happy to talk to anybody. I may enjoy a bit of banter in the House, but my message will be the same out there as it is in here.

I say to the Member from Upper Bann that it was worse than that. In the two years prior to that, Sinn Féin decided not to move on housing. It is playing a game of bluff. Now, all of a sudden, there is a rush to get everything to the Chamber so that it can get it into its election manifesto that it has done something for housing, when it has, in fact, sat on its hands for the past 10 years.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Member for his comment.

I think it was Ms Bradshaw who remarked that housing is an issue across the island. I think that the reason why it is not in the public discourse to the same extent in the North as it is in the South is whose responsibility it is. Housing is the responsibility of Sinn Féin in the North, but Sinn Féin, of course, is an opposition party in the South, where housing a key electoral strategy. Some of the remedies that the Housing Minister in the South has advocated are the ones on which we are to congratulate the housing Minister in the North.

I find it strange that, all of a sudden, having a housing-focused outcome in the Programme of Government is so important now, when it was not important in January last year, which is when we sought for it to be in the Programme for Government. When Margaret Ritchie and Alex Attwood were Social Development Ministers, they increased housing, with 2,000 new homes built each year. During their tenure in office, they built more houses than any subsequent Minister.

It is right and proper to say that housing should be on all our minds, because of those linkages to health and how it creates vibrant and sustainable communities. Across Ireland, there is a huge need for people to own their home, but, as Ms Bailey said, it is equally OK to rent and to want to be a renter. Indeed, Ms Bailey referred to examples across Europe —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I encourage the Member to use the microphone.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party


— where there are protections such as rent caps. We need to look at that.

I feel sorry not just for the people who are most vulnerable and marginalised in terms of the types of houses that they have to live in but for the people who cannot get on to the social housing ladder at all and have zero chance of owning their home. The strategy going forward for how housing is designed and created has to not only meet the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised through the provision of a good, affordable home but help your children, my children and the children of teachers, nurses, care workers and factory workers. It has to help everyone. We have to start to build a different type of society where it is OK to rent. Equally, we have to look at how co-ownership can help those who want to get into the housing market.

Of course, there are issues with how land is often banked by developers until there is an opportune time to build. I fully understand that there is much more that is not in the Minister's gift, as she said, and that requires collaboration across government. That is clear, and I accept that. However, there has to be some honesty about what has been delivered: four houses out of 2,900 on a waiting list. It is not just about starting to build; it is when the houses are actually built that is the true stat that we need to understand.

I welcome the Minister's flexibility on contracts. She will know that new builds, particularly around schools, have, in my constituency, fallen foul of the increased cost of construction.

I ask the Minister to look particularly at disabled persons facilities grants. I know that she has looked at some flexibilities there. Getting an assessment from occupational therapy to kick-start the process —.

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

Will you take a point of information?

Photo of Deirdre Hargey Deirdre Hargey Sinn Féin

We are looking at that. The Housing Executive is running a pilot to look at doing a lot of that assessment in-house. There have been brilliant results around disabled facilities, and we hope that that will be extended across the board. I will be able to update you separately on that.

Photo of Dolores Kelly Dolores Kelly Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for that clarification. That is some good news. We have talked about that in the House for a long time. As a former OT, I wonder why it has not been done before. I wish the Minister well. I know that the pilot has shown some good results. It is critical. As more and more people require healthcare and community care, the focus will be on care in the community.

Once people are ready for discharge from hospital into the community, it is critical that the support mechanisms and the wrap-around service swing into gear very swiftly.

We are, as the motion says, in a housing crisis. Far too little has been delivered over the past number of years. I hope that the strategies that the Minister outlined will see the light of day and be quickly resourced and implemented. It is very clear in my mind that we need a much broader overview to meet the needs and aspirations of all our citizens, whether it is co-ownership, having social and affordable housing to rent or people being able to remain in their own homes after injury or illness. I thank all the Members who spoke for their contributions.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That this Assembly recognises the severe impact that the housing crisis, which has made housing unaffordable for many and placed home ownership out of reach for a generation of young people, has had on people and families across Northern Ireland; notes that the average price of housing in Northern Ireland has increased by 30% since 2016; further notes that the cost of renting has increased by 25% since 2016 and this is having a material impact on the capacity of people to save the deposit needed to secure a home; regrets that the First Minister and deputy First Minister have yet to publish a Programme for Government with a specific housing outcome, supplemented with relevant indicators; and calls on the Minister for Communities to increase the supply of social and affordable housing in recognition that the security of a home has an immediate impact on the health and well-being of citizens.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I ask Members to take their ease for a few moments before the next item of business.

(Mr Speaker in the Chair)