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Provision of social and affordable housing is a key objective of Sinn Féin

13 April, 2013 - by Fra McCann

The question of housing provision is relevant whether it is in Cork, Mayo, Dublin, Belfast or Derry - whether rural or urban.

The provision of social and affordable housing is a key objective of Irish Republicans. Sinn Féin has been consistent in calling for investment in new housing stock.

We are dealing with the longest waiting lists both states have ever experienced. In the north there are 20,000 people every year declaring themselves homeless with 40,000 on the waiting list.

Most are advised to go to the unregulated private rented sector to deal with their long term housing needs. Having a home is essential to the mental well-being, health, education and employment prospects of families and individuals.

Sinn Féin has consistently worked to ensure the issue of social housing provision is prominent on all agendas.

We have a proud record of campaigning on housing issues and brought change to communities who for years had struggled to have bad housing replaced by modern decent housing.

The face of housing provision is changing in the North many would argue for the worse. The abolition of the Housing Executive in its present guise holds fears for many people.

We need to ensure that the community and social ethos of social housing provision forms the major part of any new housing structure.

As the party of social change, we need to ensure that any new structure will stand the test of time. Objective need must be at its core and be retained in the public sector.

I believe this can only be done with the formation of one landlord organisation that would have control of the 90,000 houses belonging to the Housing Executive.

There would need to be a new regional body to look after housing strategy, housing benefit, homelessness, community safety, sustainable and safe communities. Including social enterprise.

We should remember it is not just about building housing, but building strong communities. We have not always seen eye to eye with the Housing Executive but we do respect the professionalism, which exists at many levels.

 We are concerned at the continued shedding of jobs and uncertainty amongst its work force. These workers are essential to future housing structures.

We have in the past called for a review of housing associations and the housing division of the department of social development to see if both are fit for purpose. We would echo that call again.

Both states are dealing with increasing numbers of people who are losing their homes due to the financial crisis.

In the North we have seen another 15% increase in the number of actions being taken against people. Housing Rights reported a 35% increase in people seeking advice.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In the North mortgage defaults are growing. Over one third of mortgages taken out from 2005 are in negative equity.

Sinn Féin have argued that a strategy needs to be put in place to deal with this issue including realistic funding for good advice but which also helps people stay in their homes.

Comrades, the housing selection scheme is in a mess and has been for some years.

It does not work in areas of high demand.

It is discriminatory against nationalists.

Who lives in high demand areas?

Urgent action is required to put this right.

It is also a throwback to the 1950s and 60s with elements of the same family living in the one house.

We have made it clear that there are serious flaws in the housing selection scheme.

We have identified where those flaws rest and how things could be put right.

In 1979 the Housing Executive had over 220,000 houses under their control, today that figure stands at 90,000 due to the sale of houses to their tenants.

This has had serious consequences for those on waiting lists, whilst new social build programmes are crucial in dealing with growing waiting lists.

Re-lets are the biggest provider houses for allocation.

But there has been a serious decline in the availability of these houses for allocation due to the house sales scheme. Failure to deal with this could see the total demise of the social housing stock in the North.

There are serious problems for thousands of homeowners who are in receipt of benefit or who are low earners and have seen the condition of their homes deteriorate. The withdrawal of financial assistance in the way of grants to home owners is having serious consequences. 

This funding should be re-instated as it would ensure these houses would be refurbished to the highest environmental standard.

It would also provide much needed employment for the hard-pressed construction sector.  Failure to do so will cost more in the longer term.

The proposals contained within Tory welfare cuts will devastate many communities and increase poverty. The proposal to levy a fine for each bedroom under-occupied has huge implications for thousands of tenants. 

It is an attack on the poorest in our society.

It is wrong.

Sinn Féin is opposed to welfare cuts and to the bedroom tax. We have been to the fore within committee in fighting its passage and will be challenging this bill on the floor of the assembly in the coming weeks.

I would ask for support for motions 122 and 125

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