This afternoon’s Housing and Homelessness Hustings brought together eight party representatives in Girdwood Community Hub in North Belfast in an event organised by the Council for the Homelessness NI (CHNI), Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), Housing Rights and the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) who have each published manifestos (see links).
- Nelson McCausland (DUP)
- Fra McCann (Sinn Féin)
- Lesley Carroll (UUP)
- Nichola Mallon (SDLP)
- Stewart Dickson (Alliance)
- Malachi O’Hara (Green Party)
- Fiona Ferguson (People Before Profit)
- Billy Hutchinson (PUP)
The 90 minute question time was split into four topics that ranged from how to tackle Northern Ireland’s underprovision of new homes, homelessness, the private rental sector and finally the future of the NI Housing Executive.
40,000 households in Northern Ireland are on the social housing waiting list, with 22,000 in housing stress and one in eighteen of all adults saying that they have experienced some degree of homelessness.
There was notable agreement on most issues across the majority the panel – particularly the need for NIHE to have access to capital funding – and the greatest disputes were between the audience and panel … and the challenge from People Before Profit’s well researched Fiona Ferguson.
You can follow the chatter on Twitter from the event by searching for #homes4all.
On the subject of Programme for Government targets, Nichola Mallon explained the need for an outcomes-based approach (and desired interim targets as well as the end-of-five-year overall goal). She thought the Green Party’s idea of a rental cap mad merit, but the longer term consequences need to be looked at.
Fra McCann highlighted the need for a wraparound package to meet multiple needs, not just homes but also mental health services.
Fiona Ferguson suggested that if housing was a priority, money – for example, the cash available for civil service redundancies – should he be diverted to NIHE for house building. She also called for politicians not to make housing a sectarian issue.
Billy Hutchinson responded to a specific query his stance against housing on the old Dunnes Stores site by saying the site was designated for retail, talking about the need to follow planning rules, questioning who would police housing on the site [Ed – the PSNI?] and saying people putting up posters were stirring up trouble. [Ed – people taking down posters also stir up trouble …]
Stewart Dickson agreed with NIHE need access adequate finance and be allowed to both build houses as well as provide professional strategic direction alongside the housing associations.
Lesley Carroll reminded the audience that “homelessness is not ‘a’ problem, it’s many problems woven together”. She called for the community & voluntary sector to be a delivery partner and not just consulted over strategies. She suggested that NIHE should be able to borrow against their existing assets to fund new homebuilding.
Malachi O’Hara espoused the benefit of a Green New Deal over housing and stressed the need for mixed housing stock and local consultation. Housing policy will feature in the Green Party manifesto (to be launched next week).
Nelson McCausland reminded the audience of DUP manifesto commitment to build a further 8,000 social and affordable housing units by 2020. He saw a better cooperation within departments and the need for contribution by multiple departments.