McCausland to downsize the Housing Executive to a small strategic body?

Okay, so thanks to Barry McCaffrey of The Detail for the detailed commentary on the announcement of the reform of the Housing Executive of Northern Ireland. According to the notes to editors that comes with the publication of the Minister’s written statement, this measure was agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive on 13 December 2012.

We don’t have any detail of the discussion that followed, but you might say that it’s long reign as the only provider of public sector housing is almost at an end. As Barry notes:

NIHE will lose responsibility for managing housing benefit payments, potentially putting the jobs of 400 staff at risk.

But Mr McCausland’s announcement tomorrow morning is expected to also state that NIHE will be stripped of the body’s primary function: landlord for some 90,000 properties throughout Northern Ireland.

The Detail understands that the most likely result of that move will be for the property to be transferred over to at least five ‘super’ housing associations.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The reforms come in response to what the DUP Minister saw as poor management practice particularly in certain areas of Belfast. This will have the effect, presumably, of shortening the line of management and allowing what remains of the Executive to play a more strategic role in housing provision.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • Brian Walker

    Some questions to look out for in the announcements.

    What are the projected savings in dismantling the Housing Executive?

    How will any savings be reinvested?

    The idea of private investment for new housing and refurbishment of existing stock is attractive. Where is the funding to come from? The existing housing market remains in steep decline.

    The mooted super housing associations are geographically very wide. Housing associations are supposed to give its members some sense of joint ownership. How will this be achieved?

    How is “social housing” defined? Most housing in Ni is in the public sector although there has been a revival of private renting mainly in more prosperous areas.

    What powers will the new councils have?

    How will changes to the planning system affect outcomes?

    As the Detail asks: “ if as is expected, the Housing Executive is effectively stripped of its existing powers, who will decide how social housing is allocated in divided communities across Northern Ireland and where new housing developments should be built?

    “Under the present market conditions, it therefore becomes increasingly important, that the public
    sector delivers a greater volume of affordable housing well above that achieved in 2009, particularly as private sector development has declined. This is particularly apparent within the city of Belfast.”

    A major report on housing activity two years ago showed that in 2009 private sector new build focused on the city centre and those higher-priced neighbourhoods to the east and south of the city centre, with little activity in the north and west of the city”

    Will these changes rectify the imbalance?

  • Ruarai

    As the cited Detail report notes:

    “today’s announcement is certain to spark debate on how the independence of the new regime will be safeguarded to ensure homes are allocated according to social need.”

    That debate will hopefully be more robust than the current one into how NIHE has lost its own way on that point.

    It’s quite appalling that empty and derelict houses lay uninhabited on one side of that so-called peace line while on the other side of it there’s a waiting list for housing. Whatever criteria are being used to permit and deny allocations in such circumstances, it’s hardly social need.

  • jagmaster

    You could also ask how they are going to cope with the forthcoming under occupancy penalty. Are there enough 1 bedroom properties for people who can’t afford the reduction in their Housing Benefit?

  • Gopher

    Population density in Belfast has radically dropped the problem for social housing is getting the right size of accommodation for the right number of people. No harm but it makes no sense to have 1 person living in a house and a 4 person family on a waiting list when there are single bedroom flats available

  • jagmaster

    Ah I see the old Belfast Centric issue has raised it’s head again. There may be enough 1 bedroom properties in Belfast but what about the rest of the North? And would Belfast residents accept a 4 bedroom house in Newry whilst the Newry resident goes the other way?

  • Mick Fealty

    The thought did strike me that these regional units will over lap most statutory boundaries too so that the large scale won’t bring much jn the way planning or other synergies. Look forward to getting the report.

  • Gopher

    I think that’s why it is being regionalised Jagmaster so Newry’s and other areas different needs can be looked after

  • The Raven

    “What powers will the new councils have?”

    In this? Nothing.

    On the unrelated issue of occupancy, one of my friends – a single mum – will be in severe financial diffs this coming year, because children under the age of 14 are now expected to share a room. Her’s are 5 and 7, male and female. She’s at college trying to be a striver, rather than a skiver – Tory language, not mine. I wonder what humiliation we’ll put on people next?

  • Reader

    The Raven: On the unrelated issue of occupancy, one of my friends – a single mum – will be in severe financial diffs this coming year, because children under the age of 14 are now expected to share a room. Her’s are 5 and 7, male and female
    I thought the new rules were “Children under the age of 15 are expected to share with another child if they are the same sex, and children under nine are expected to share regardless of gender.” Is your friend facing a local variation? If she can hang on for a year and a bit that particular problem will go away. It may be more practical than moving twice in successive years.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Another interesting side issue, the NIHE also owns vast tracts of undeveloped land, mainly “landscaped” grass areas. Will they just divided up the same?

  • BluesJazz

    The NIHE has over 2800 people employed by it doing very little. Perhaps this is a genuine cost saving measure to the taxpayer.
    They can take the option of joining a private sector association on lower wages and no pension, or take redundancy and never work again.
    The status quo will not be an option for most of them. The feathernested ‘management’ will be alright, but the rest are going to be stuffed. Nelson refused to be drawn on their future tonight. Not a good sign.

  • BluesJazz

    And yes, this is part of Westminster instructing Stormont that welfare has to be reigned in. The block grant will face a *real* cut in 2015. The markers are being laid.

  • David Crookes

    “The feathernested ‘management’ will be all right, but the rest are going to be stuffed.”

    If that is true, BluesJazz, it’s worthy of a Michael Caine film. Which of our MLAs will campaign on behalf of ‘the rest’?

  • BluesJazz

    The same mla’s who opposed shutting the City hospital a&e. What are the nihe staff going to do when they cease to exist? Who campaigned for the patton or fg wilson staff? NI cannot escape what’s happening worldwide.

  • sherdy

    When will Nelson tell us whether his friends in the UDA or UVF will run these new housing associations?

  • Rapunsell

    BJ. Have you ever had cause to deal with nihe as a tenant or in a professional capacity? IMHO totally ridiculous to state nihe staff do very little. I was born and bred on an nihe estate with a family that moved into a new house in a different part of NI for employment purposes and to escape sectarianism due to being in a mixed marriage. Without Nihe my parents could not have done that. I honestly have had the pleasure myself of working with many brilliant and committed nihe staff in Fermanagh , Derry, belfast , Craigavon over the last 15 years. I’m not opposed to changes but the challenge will surely to not throw away the knowledge experience the nihe has. Wrt staff surely tupe will apply with staff transferring to housing associations under current terms and conditions? Wrt featherbedding I recall that Alex attwood when dsd minister had a serious problem with unreformed housing associations in NI! I recall the issues were to do with sitting on vast reserves without investing them in housing development and highly generous remuneration packages for staff ( and perhaps board in some cases)way beyond public sector pay. Anyway- not opposed to change but the cure could be worse than the disease

  • 6crealist

    “The NIHE has over 2800 people employed by it doing very little”.

    Where’s your evidence?

  • BluesJazz


    1. Yes I lived in a ‘council’ later HE estate for 12 years.
    And yes had to move for the very same reasons as yourself.

    2. The ‘experience’ of NIHE is nothing a day’s training couldn’t overcome. It’s hugely over managerialised and a lot of people on very high salaries are in a comfort zone that even Stormont would be jealous of.
    3. It’s got more staff than many English LEA equivalents with 10 times the number of tenants. A lot of the lower administrative staff are barely literate.

    Re: tupe, that will apply, but only to those that move to the housing associations. Compulsory redundancies are unavoidable here. Those with only a few years service the most vulnerable.

    It’s happening big style on the mainland.

    Now the comfort zone is being lifted here, why would we be exempt?

  • BluesJazz

    6 realist
    3000 people to manage a housing list of 90,000?

    They employed less people when they had 200,000 homes to manage. And at lower grades.

    Google ‘growth of bureacracy’ if you can find the time.

  • 6crealist

    Do you work in the Executive, or talk directly to those who do about their responsibilities and workload?

  • sevenmagpies


    What’s the name of this ‘english LEA with 10 times the number of tenants’?

  • The Raven

    Reader: thanks for that – will check it out and pass it on. 🙂

  • streetlegal

    The real motivation behind this move is Nelson McCausland’s longstanding opposition to the Housing Executive and the way in which it allocates housing, particularly in North Belfast. Both Mr McCausland and his like-minded DSD Permanent Secretary, Mr Haire, are committed to breaking the Housing Executive principle of the provision and allocation of housing on the basis of social need, This will allow them to return to the kind of allocation of housing which prevailed in N Ireland before the Housing Executive came into being – on a sectarian basis.

  • Scrapping of Housing Executive. Another attack on Universal Welfare;

    The Republican Network for Unity urge all republicans, socialists and indeed all progressive thinking people to resist the abolition of the Housing Executive.

    This decision by the DUP’s Nelson McCausland will usher in an influx of privateers into the housing market and will inevitably lead to a rise in rents and a drop in housing standards and availability.

    The Housing Executive came about as a direct result of poor housing and a policy of sectarian allocation by local councils. The new housing associations will be run by private companies and their criteria for allocating housing are unclear, presumably profit is their main aim.

    The fact that the Stormont government is implementing this Tory conceived policy is a further erosion of the notion of universal welfare and the concept of the welfare state itself.

    The policies of both states in Ireland represent an attack on the entire working class, attacks on benefits, health, education and now housing continue unabated. RNU call for grass roots working class unity across the community and across the island.

    Diversions from these attacks in the form of sectarian flag waving must be resisted and the gombeenism that has spiraled out of control in the 26 counties must be reversed.

    RNU will play our part in the creation of a new Ireland where universal welfare in the key function of the state and not a way of making money by privateers.…%3Alatest-news

  • disaffectedcitizen

    BluesJazz can you please tell me which LEA has a housing stock of 900,000 properties, because I would really love to know.

    You should get other facts right before you post your comments.

    The NIHE is not just responsible for managing a housing stock of 90,000 properties, it is responsible for Housing Benefit (though that is soon to change, which will result in further staff reductions), housing research, private sector grant aid, Supporting People etc etc etc, and it is less than 2800 staff not 3000.

    Look at the record of Housing Associations here in Northern Ireland, ask the question why there are so many, why each of them has a Chief Executive, a Board & Directors all on higher salaries than the equivalent in NIHE. A number of HAs are still suspended.

    Whilst other public sector organisations are consolidating and having a single body, Education & Library Board etc, Mr McCausland wishes to split housing up over a number of Housing Assocations, where is the value for money in that???

    We all know his real reasons for doing this and it has nothing to do with enabling the borrowing of private finance, it is solely because of his embarrassment when the NIHE Chairman and Board stood up to him, his personal links to Red Sky, his belief that NIHE is sectarian (he has stated this publically).

    DSD, Will Haire, & Nelson McCausland are ultimately responsible for reducing funding to NIHE, interfering in NIHE strategies and day to day operations – Red Sky debacle and Girdwood, removing new build from NIHE remit the list goes on and on.

    And I do think the NIHE needs to change and improve, but overall they have done an excellent job over the last 40 years in very difficult circumstances ( and how much publicity does Minister McCausland give to that – one sentence in his letter to the Assembly, says a lot doesn’t it.

    My parents and members of my family have been NIHE tenants for over 20 years, without many problems, the NIHE is not a perfect organisation, but name me one organisation that is.

    The one good success story to come out of the last 40 years, and he wants it abolished – ask yourself why.