Families in need of homes prompts Stormont appeal

Families in need of homes prompts Stormont appeal

3 August 2022

STORMONT communities minister Deirdre Hargey has been asked to help address the crisis in the district’s private rented sector.

The unanimous appeal was issued at Monday night’s monthly meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council when there was across-the-board political support for a proposal tabled by Mournes councillor Laura Devlin.

Ms Hargey has been asked to reintroduce the ‘living over the shops initiative” which provided support for the business community to convert vacant upstairs property to provide much-needed living accommodation and to examine other innovative solutions to help address the crisis.

Cllr Devlin said while many people are acutely aware of the district’s housing crisis and the local authority’s determination to help when it organised housing conferences, the situation has been magnified over recent months.

She said in Newcastle, like many other towns and villages, there has been a marked increase in families seeking alternative accommodation as their current landlord has decided to either sell the property or opt for the holiday rental market. 

Cllr Devlin said that as a result, the supply of long-term private rental has dried up significantly, resulting in families who have lived in the resort their whole life, facing a “horrendous situation” where they don’t know where they will be in a few months’ time. 

“Parents are unsure if their children will be able to return to their same school come September, as where they will be living is so up in the air,” she told council colleagues tabling her motion.

“This concerns me greatly. We want people who play such an active role in our community to have a home and a future here. There are also the long-term concerns about the viability of schools, and clubs etc if our private rented properties are being retained for tourists.”

Cllr Devlin said while she fully supports local tourism and is delighted with how popular Newcastle in particular has become, she has no intention of discouraging this. 

She insists Ms Hargey must intervene and provide some alternative options or schemes to deal with the current housing crisis in Newcastle and throughout many of other towns and villages.

“We require more affordable and social housing,” Cllr Devlin continued.

“We need schemes that tackle the dereliction in many of our towns and villages as these are properties which could be utilised by these same families seeking accommodation.”

Cllr Devlin said while she has referred to the living over the shops initiative, she is not simply focusing on this one scheme. 

“I am calling for innovative solutions to tackle what is already a disastrous situation and one which is set to get worse,” she declared.

“I would welcome any such schemes which improves the local housing stock in our area. My main concern is the Mournes area, but I know of similar issues in Castlewellan and Dundrum. 

“Indeed, I don’t doubt that many settlements across and around our beautiful coastline in particular are unaffected by this housing crisis which has now been exacerbated by the Airbnb factor.”

Cllr Devlin said while she appreciates there is no Northern Ireland Executive in place, which she described as “disgraceful”, she believes Stormont’s Communities Minister has a duty to act to assist local families who are very much in need.