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Fra Mc Cann MLA calls on Social Development Minister to stop the rhetoric

9 July, 2007

He said,

"Margaret Ritchie should spell out what she is going to do to end the serious crisis we face in housing, rather than continuing to promise all things to all people and blaming others for the problems. We need to hear exactly what measures she intends to employ to move things forward.

Homelessness is a huge issue which becomes increasingly more serious year on year.

The following examples show the dire state we are in:-

In the Cookstown area last year, 145 people declared themselves homeless while in that same year there were no new houses built; in fact there has been no addition to the social housing stock for the past 5 years.

In Antrim last year 584 people declared themselves homeless. Although 35 new homes were started in that same period, not a single home was completed in the year 2005/06. A study of the statistics in each other council area paints much the same picture, either no new houses have been built or else there have been so few that it makes very little difference to the lengthy waiting lists.

Over 20,000 people in total have declared themselves homeless over the past year. This is not only a crisis, it is a disgrace. Direct rule ministers and their advisors have for many years been responsible for the social housing programme and have allowed it to run into the ground. Margaret Ritchie says she wants to do something about housing and indeed she has a willing assembly who would support her in trying to come to terms with the many problems we face in the various elements of housing. However, making promises she may not be able to keep is not the solution and her constant warcry that if she were given the money she could resolve the housing crisis is beginning to sound like empty rhetoric. "

He continued,"

"It is not all about money.

In the south of Ireland, the land for houses programme has been successfully used to tackle this issue and if legislation needs to be rushed through the assembly to initiate the same process here then why not? If we wait for the completion of the land audit before taking action we may wait forever. The minister has plenty of resources at her finger tips which have the potential to kickstart a concerted fight back. The reality is there are large parcels of land belonging to DSD which could be freed up to be used for the building of social housing so why don't we start here and see what difference we can make.

In terms of owned property, over 2614 mortgage repossessions took place in 2005/06, a figure which has risen by 900 in 5 years. This is a soul destroying situation for young people whose only crime is that they want to live in their own homes.

Five years ago housing associations bought back one former social home for £64,500; last year the same associations spent £1,596,75 on the purchase of nine houses and in the past 5 years almost £11 million was spent buying back some 97 houses in Belfast. This practice is replicated right throughout the north and I believe this money could be better spent on developing new housing schemes on DSD land.

Margaret Ritchie needs to pursue section 40 of the Planning Act which decrees that a percentage of new private developments should be set aside for the social and affordable sector, a route which has not been availed of to any great degree in the past, if even at all. If one considers that over 97% of all houses built last year were earmarked for the private housing market, the upshot of this is that many hundreds of potential houses were lost due to the decision not to use this clause in the Planning Act, even though planners themselves are quite eager to do so.

The Housing Executive also has some fairly strong vesting powers. The Planning Act should be used to acquire land at an affordable price to initiate programmes to provide housing in the affordable and social sectors, a measure which would go some way to reversing the policies to which we have been subjected during the years of direct rule and which have been responsible for the serious housing crisis we find ourselves in at present.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of land are currently under the control of the minister's department. This should be investigated immediately in order to ensure that some of it at least can be used for a social housing programme, an initiative which has been extremely successful in the south of Ireland and England. All that is required is the will to process the necessary legislation which will free up public land for social and affordable housing and thereby help to end the housing crisis which continues to haunt us."


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