Ahead of the Assembly debate on the housing crisis, Cameron Watt sets out how concerted action across government is needed to deliver social and affordable homes.
Northern Ireland is in the midst of a housing crisis, which is being debated in the Assembly today. 22,000 households are in housing stress. Only 7,000 of the 11,000 homes we need annually are being built. 36% of young adults in NI are still living with their parents, the highest rate in the UK.
There are no quick fixes. However with our government partners, housing associations are leading efforts to provide more homes for people in need. Associations match DSD grant pound for pound with their own funds, doubling the number of homes that could otherwise be delivered. This year 1,300 new social homes will be started and over 1,000 first-time buyers helped by Co-Ownership. Although our sector has consistently met targets, more can be done. For 2014/15, the target for new social homes increases sharply from 1,300 to 2,000.
Achieving this 50% increase is possible, but not without concerted action across the NI Executive to unblock many barriers to delivery. Most urgent is a ‘game-changer’ on land supply. Too many sites still tied-up with the banks and NAMA. Public bodies must do all they can to bring forward their unused land.
To boost delivery, Ministers McCausland and Hamilton can also radically reduce the red-tape increasingly driving our construction firms to seek work in GB rather than NI. Our gold-plating of EU procurement rules makes building homes a more difficult and lengthy process. Minister Durkan is committed to strengthening the draft planning framework to ensure housing need is robustly assessed and fully met through new development plans, including through an adequate supply of suitable sites. Minister O’Dowd can help by ensuring that redundant school sites are made available. With additional planning and other powers, new super-councils will also have a vital role in meeting housing need.
Ensuring everyone has a decent, warm and affordable home is a shared responsibility. Housing associations are stepping-up to build more homes. Together, with full support from public sector partners, we can achieve the step-change in delivery that is required.
This article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 21 March