The Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, has set out his position in a statement today, Thursday, following disquiet over the restructuring of housing announced last week, which resulted in a Province-wide walkout by Housing Executive staff.
‘Strengthening Housing Provision in Northern Ireland’
I recently announced my proposals for a fundamental review of the NI Housing Executive and will soon bring forward plans for a Northern Ireland housing strategy. These two things combined will bring housing in Northern Ireland forward for the next generation.
Housing is key to the future of Northern Ireland – not only in the quality of the homes we provide, but in supporting the economy, creating employment and creating a sustainable future for all of us. I want to strengthen the future of housing in Northern Ireland, not diminish it.
My recent proposals are only the start of this process. There is much more work to be done and I will be reporting back to the Assembly and to the Northern Ireland public as more detailed plans take shape. However, what I want to make clear is that this is not about cutting jobs, it is not about increasing rents and it is not abolishing the Housing Executive. It is about improving the housing structures that will support communities and families for the next and future generations.
I should point out that much work has been done to get to this point. Across the Housing Sector there have been many reports, discussions and consultations about reforming housing structures in Northern Ireland, to ensure that they are more financially sustainable and focused on quality service delivery for tenants. It is based on these reports, the most recent being the report commissioned by my predecessor Alex Attwood on which I sought further consultation that I have brought forward my proposals which I believe will achieve the best results for tenants and taxpayers. I aim to build on the success of the past, creating structures that will ensure a sustainable housing system, providing effective services and good quality housing for tenants and access to private funds to allow future investment.
Every week I talk to people living in homes and communities where houses once filled with young families, are now empty derelict; where repairs have not been completed and young people striving to get on the property ladder. Good quality social housing can be the springboard to attract new families and breathe life back into these communities, while securing jobs for those working and living there.
There has been much ill informed talk of privatisation of housing, higher rents and job losses.
I have made it quite clear that there will be a Regional Housing Body that will deliver the non landlord functions of the Housing Executive including the delivery of the Common Selection Scheme and administration of the Social Housing Development Programme. These regional services will be based on and focused on addressing need. There is no question that I am proposing the privatisation of housing. What I am proposing is that the landlord functions of the NIHE will become part of the Housing Association sector which are registered and regulated by my department and currently provide homes to 30,000 social tenants. With regard to rent levels, I am proposing the creation of Social Housing Rent Panel who will advise me on rent levels in the social housing sector. Central to this is that rents remain affordable and that they allow social housing to be maintained to the appropriate standards. I do not believe that proposals will or should herald significant rent increases. A cornerstone of social housing is affordable rent levels and this will remain the case.
I hope I have been clear in saying that the functions that are currently carried out by the Housing Executive are functions which will still have to be carried out, grants will still have to be awarded, properties will still have to be managed; all of those different functions will still take place and it will require staff to do so. I want to stress that this is a restructuring process and for the vast majority of staff in NIHE they will continue to deliver the services they currently deliver.
I would reiterate, we are at a very early stage of this journey and there is nothing within these proposals that will have any immediate impact on those living in Housing Executive homes. They do however mark a new stage in the reform of Housing Structures, I have put forward my proposals on the structures I want to achieve, and I believe we need, I have opened the debate and am in listening mode on how we get there. I am committed to working collaboratively to explore these proposals and develop the detail in a way that engages stakeholders, including tenants, addresses concerns and wins consensus.
It is as I have said about restructuring to deliver sustainable social housing for both taxpayers and tenants.