Northern Ireland not forgotten

Update 2 From Slugger contributor jenny: “The big question in NI is – why no brought forward cash for more social housing, to take advantage of lower land and labour prices at the present time?” It’s done already I’m told. Social Development minister Margaret Ritchie’s £250 million additional budget secured in the New Year will add 1,000 extra social housing units to an existing 600. Itll fall far short of meeting the full demand but its something. And she’ll announce a mortgage rescue scheme “unique to NI” over the next few weeks, which will allow the Housing Executive and housing associations to take over certain mortgages (which?) of people in difficulty and rent the property back to them. Housing finance experts please add and comment.

Update. As expected the raising of the threshold for paying stamp duty on house purchase from 125k to 175k hasn’t impressed generally. The best that can be said for it is that finally quashes rumours thought to have depressed the housing market still further, that stamp duty would be suspended altogether. For England and Wales. one big mortgage adviser says the move will affect only 50,000 would be house purchasers at today’s low lending levels. It also means the jump from zero to 3% stamp duty for houses selling at 250k and upwards becomes all the higher. But might it not mean that some prices at the lower end will drop in order to make the sale? This may l effect NI sales…. …..with predictions that average prices, which peaked at almost £250,000 this time last year, will fall to close on £200,000 by the end of the year. Might some prices squeeze down a bit further? Regardless of stamp duty, local estate agents have already been pitching hard “. Developers have reduced their prices so much they are practically at cost — they can’t go much lower.” Will buyers hold off to see what happens, as they have year’s grace before stamp duty is slapped on again? More “slashing to come?

A familiar plea has come from a contributor commenting on my earlier references to Gordon Brown’s housing help package being unveiled today. Wild Turkey asks the £50,000 question: “Aren’t the Brown proposals re the housing market exclusive to england/wales? As such they will not apply to Norn Ironland. Any comparable package would have to be developed and implemented by our hyper-active executive and assembly”. It’s a question we ask again and again and usually in my experience, the NI administration brings up the rear panting with a line or two.

This time to be fair, the said Executive, prompted of course by Whitehall’s example, have come up with a shared equity scheme as quick as you like.

“The government project is being piloted in the Maghon Park area of Portadown, County Armagh.
Barclays’ bank is to offer would-be buyers mortgages for the remaining half of the price without a deposit. The scheme will be launched by Stormont Housing minister Margaret Ritchie. In a pilot scheme, a total of 127 homes – 24 detached houses and 103 semi-detached – are up for sale with prices starting at £145,000. t is the first area in the UK to introduce an initiative, which will see developers and housing associations shouldering 50% of the property’s cost

Details are sparse and we don’t know yet ( 7,.30 a.m.) what follows about help for existing homeowners in trouble and social housing.

For England and Wales, Gordon Brown is promising “first-time buyers in England “free” loans of up to 30% of their home’s value, in an effort to reinvigorate the housing market. Households earning less than £60,000 will be offered loans free of charge for five years on new properties, co-funded by the state and developers.
This will help about 10,000 would be young buyers For existing homeowners who can no longer afford mortgage payments, the government says councils or social housing landlords can pay off the debt and instead charge tenants rent “at a level they can afford”

Are we impressed? Sceptics like the authoritative Financial Times believe the £1 billion scheme is only a drop in the ocean. On the other hand, the taxpayer can’t be expected to shoulder the entire burden of the credit crunch. The best that can be hoped for is that this will act as a jump start to revive the plunging housing market.
Roll up, roll up!. Meanwhile in a Daily Telegraph scoop, the Tories are announcing a rival attraction “Tories plan to raise inheritance tax threshold to £2 million.”

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London