Politicians agree strategy needed for social housing

Politicians agree strategy needed for social housing

11 April 2018

THE scale of the district’s social housing crisis has been highlighted by local politicians.

Politicians are keen to work with the Housing Executive and Housing Associations to ensure those on the waiting list can secure a roof over their head and get a foot on the housing ladder.

The pledge came during Monday night’s meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council when it was revealed that 250 people on the waiting list for social housing in Newcastle have been classed in the urgent need category.

A lack of available land to build new homes is exacerbating the situation in the resort, with politicians claiming rented properties are at a premium and that houses which do come on the market are snapped up for holiday homes.

Cllr Laura Devlin said Newcastle was in “dire straits” in terms of demand for social and affordable housing.

She said people were struggling to get a foot on the property ladder and that it was “wildly expensive” to purchase homes which do come on the market.

Cllr Willie Clarke said Newcastle was suffering from a “chronic lack” of social and affordable housing and claimed that the number of homes available for rent were at a premium.

“People are buying property for holiday accommodation in a town where there are 250 families in urgent need of a home and very little land available to build the homes that are required,” he continued. “When social housing projects do come forward we should support them given the need across the community.”

The housing crisis and the need to act was highlighted by Cllr Michael Savage, who secured across-the-board political support for a motion urging the local authority to make social and affordable housing a priority.

“We have huge problems in housing but, probably for the first time in a generation, have the tools and the opportunity to come up with viable, long term solutions,” he said. 

“This motion puts the council at the centre of the strategic response that is badly needed to tackle the housing crisis in our district.

With Stormont unlikely to be in place for the foreseeable future, the council can give leadership to encourage all the stakeholders to deliver for our people.”

Cllr Savage said elected representatives from all parties were “working tirelessly on a daily basis” to help people with housing issues and are acutely aware of the extent of the problem across the district.

He added: “The right to a home is a fundamental, internationally recognised human right. Homelessness has no respect for colour or creed or religion, it affects us all but I believe that with cross-party support we can make a real impact on this issue.”

Cllr Garth Craig described the district’s housing need as “particularly acute,” while Cllr Billy Walker urged the local authority to work with Housing Associations to help identify locations where social homes can be provided.

“I am currently working with a housing association to provide new sheltered accommodation in Killyleagh and have identified two potential sites. Providing sheltered housing would allow single people currently in three or four bedroom homes to move there, freeing up their properties for families on the waiting list,” he added.

Cllr Gareth Sharvin hopes plans for a significant number of new social homes at the site of the former Downe Hospital site in Downpatrick will considerably ease the pressure on the town’s waiting list, highlighting the absence of zoned land for social homes in rural areas.

He said it was an issue which needed to be addressed, claiming that when land did become available, it was too expensive for social housing providers to purchase and develop.

Cllr Cadogan Enright highlighted the need to extend the development limit for new houses across the district, particularly in rural areas where he said there was an increasing need for social homes, while Cllr Andrew McMurray said he was a supporter of developing living space above shops in town centres.