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McCann - Affordable and social housing must be prioritised

15 January, 2007


Sinn Féin Housing Spokesperson, West Belfast MLA Fra McCann has said that
affordable and social housing must be a priority for any incoming Executive
and that dealing with the problem of vacant properties would have a
significant impact in the provision of both affordable and social housing
and in eradicating homelessness.

Speaking to a Sinn Féin amendment to a motion on affordable housing in the
Transitional Assembly today Mr McCann said:

"Without the amendment the substantive motion misses an important element of
housing - the provision of social housing, a sector which has for many years
been totally neglected and suffered for serious and sustained under
investment. I would go further and say that in today's housing market that
both affordable, social and the other elements, which make up the housing
mix should run hand in glove.

"Sinn Féin have warned British direct rule ministers about the inability of
the Department of Social Development to manage the social new build housing
programme. The crisis could have been avoided.

"98.3% of all housing starts were for the private sector in the last
recorded quarter from April to June 06. This is a major part of the reason
for the crisis in the provision of social housing - we are not building
enough new homes in the social sector - we are not meeting current targets -
targets that are not ambitious enough in the first place.

"If one compares the new build completions in 95/96 - when 2403 new social
houses were built; to 05/06 when only 782 new social houses were completed.
A huge decline over 10 years - we are now building only about a third of the
number we were 10 years ago.
"If you match these figures against those declaring themselves homeless it
puts the crisis into perspective. In 95/96 10,468 people declared as
homeless, ten years later that figure had risen to over 20,000, and for the
first two quarters of 06 the figures were 10,460, still on an upward trend
and an indictment on the way housing has been mishandled.

"We need an Incoming Executive to make affordable and social housing a
priority. We need to ensure that a future housing minister will promote
sustainable communities and ensure that every one has the opportunity of a
house at a price they can afford, in a place where they want to live and
work.

"We need to recognise that housing is a right - and I hope that work on a
Bill of Rights will take a broad approach to social and economic rights.

"In the 26 counties the approach to affordability was to bring in
legislation to ensure that contractors provided 20% of a private housing
development for social and affordable housing - this was done under part 5
of the Planning and Development Act. Local councils in the south also land
bank and use this in negotiations with contractors to ensure a continuous
supply of social and affordable housing.

"We need to be proactive in our approach to affordable and social housing,
we have to ensure that those most in need in our society have a roof over
their heads, and those who wish to buy their home are able to do so at an
affordable price, and we need to ensure that speculators are not in a
position to freeze young first time buyers out of the market which is the
norm at present.

"We wait to see the impact of the latest increase in the cost of borrowing.
Yet, if we look at statistics - in 01/02 there were 1,540 actions for
mortgage repossessions, which was an 11.5% decrease on the previous year,
compare this with 05/06 where there were 2.614 actions which was an 19.5%
increase on the previous year - this shows the extent of the problem.

"It is imperative that this assembly is up and running. We owe it to the
30,000 people waiting on social housing, we owe it to the thousands waiting
on an affordable home.

"Today, as we speak, out of a total housing stock 702,000 in the north of
Ireland there are 36,280 were vacant dwellings - all in various states of
repair and many left empty as investments to accumulate profit. 1 in 20
homes empty.

"Without building single house for the affordable or social sector - if we
tackled this problem we could go a long way to providing homes for thousands
of people and thousands of families - to meeting a commitment to eradicate
homelessness." ENDS

Not to Editors

Motion on Affordable Housing

That this Assembly expresses serious concerns about the affordable housing
crisis; notes the deliberations by the committee chaired by Sir John Semple;
and demands that any new Executive make affordable housing an urgent
government priority.

Sinn Féin Amendment

Delete all after "crisis;" and insert:

"and the serious under provision of social housing due to lack of investment
and the absence of any strategy; notes the deliberations by the committee
chaired by Sir John Semple; and calls on an incoming Executive to make
social and affordable housing an urgent priority and for the development of
a strategic response including action to end homelessness by 2010; and to
bring vacant properties back into use to meet the unmet need in the
provision of social and affordable housing."

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