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Social Housing - There Is A better Way

25 November, 2010

It is accepted that under current arrangements that the Housing Executive is finding it increasingly difficult to deliver on its obligations to reduce homelessness and eliminate the waiting list – both of which continue to outstrip home provision.Sinn Féin has proposed innovative and imaginative alternative funding mechanisms to resolve this dilemma.In our Economic document “There Is A Better Way” Sinn Féin has proposed the establishment of a not–for–profit Social Housing Agency with the capability of borrowing from amongst other sources – the European Bank. Such an Agency can be established through an existing statutory procedure known as ‘Large Scale Voluntary Transfer’ of current Housing Executive stock of 90,000 houses which generates a significant annual stream of rental revenue. According to a 2009/10 analysis the Housing Executive generates a rental income of £240million per year while having outgoings for maintenance, supervision, management and other overheads of £180million. This leaves a surplus of £60million available for investment and housing construction.Sinn Féin believes that the physical assets of (mostly) good standard housing stock and rental revenues would be very attractive collateral to any lending institution. Rather than leave these assets – for all intent or purpose – dormant, we believe that it should be utilised to generate the investment required to address the housing deficit. Sinn Féin is proposing a target of 2,500 new homes per annum over the next four years. Sinn Fein believes that the current and ongoing review of the Housing Executive provides a timely opportunity to bring forward this major re-structuring of the finances of the HE whilst reinforcing its current remit of a statutory and strategic function.  Sinn Féin believes that an innovative approach such as this is required. The fall off in capital receipts in recent years has impacted on the ability of the Housing Executive to fund the building of sufficient houses to meet demand. It has also resulted in a serious backlog on maintenance and improvements to present stock. It is estimated that there are 5000 dwellings which require significant refurbishment.While the primary purpose of the Sinn Féin proposal is to address homelessness and the waiting list a number of studies have identified investment in housing as having a positive benefit in terms of Health and Education which would ease the pressure on these two important areas of public spending. It would of course have a very significant impact on the construction industry and employment in general and act as a crucial driver in economic recovery.In effect what we are proposing is the creation of a Social Housing Agency governed by a board consisting of equal numbers drawn from Housing Executive, Tenant Representatives and Business. We believe that this type of governance would provide tenants with a sense of ownership by involving them in the management arrangements of the Agency – involvement that is not available to them in the present model. In order to test this proposal Sinn Fein would suggest that a full Strategic Options Study be undertaken and look forward to discussions with our Executive colleagues on this initiative.Sinn Féin believes that our proposal for restructuring the housing provision model can work and will provide vital flexibility to the Executive in resisting pressure on a range of essential front-line services.

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