#TheReset-A safe, secure, and affordable place to call home can never be overstated, not least during a public health crisis

Heather Wilson is the Policy and Engagement Manager for Chartered Institute of Housing in Northern Ireland. Today she writes about the future of housing. 

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown brought about challenges never before faced by the housing sector in Northern Ireland. The almost instantaneous inter-agency cooperation that emerged during the early days of lockdown to make Northern Ireland the first and only jurisdiction across these islands to place all rough sleepers into accommodation sent a strong signal of intent of the direction of housing providers here.

Welding together the ambitions of a sector with client experiences on the ground during the coronavirus pandemic has set a bar that can be attained should the Department for Communities (DfC), alongside housing providers, introduce reforms that can ensure we have the best housing provision possible for tenants as we move towards the ‘new normal’.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) in Northern Ireland supports several reforms that are documented in our Rethinking Social Housing report and subsequent areas of research that will improve housing provision in a post coronavirus context. Below is a snapshot of three areas of reform that CIH believe should be prioritised moving forward:

1) Review of social housing allocations

In 2017, DfC commissioned a fundamental review into the allocation of social housing in Northern Ireland, and ever since the debate around the need for reform has been well rehearsed. It is the view of CIH that these reforms, including bringing an end to intimidation points, a recognition of length of time spent on the waiting list, and better use of transfers and exchanges would all go a long way to ensuring that social housing is allocated equitably and continues to be responsive to people’s housing requirements well into the future.

2) Reform of the Private Rented Sector

As the pandemic ensued in early April, the Department brought forward legislation to extend the notice to quit period from four to twelve weeks for tenants living within the Private Rented Sector (PRS). The move was welcomed and more so now that the legislation, which was initially to run to the end of September 2020 has been extended to 31 March 2021. CIH recommend that the lengthening of the notice to quit period, similar to that in Scotland, should continue long past the current context we find ourselves in, with the exception of ASB and severe rent arrears cases. Also thought should be given to not just a delay to eviction, but a stay on eviction where certain conditions are met. It is well accepted across that sector that such a change will provide additional security of tenure for tenants in the PRS, as well as strengthening homeless prevention.

3) Mixed communities and the removal of stigma around social housing

A safe, secure, and affordable place to call home can never be overstated, not least during a public health crisis. The prolonged period spent indoors in a bid to tackle the virus reminded us of the importance of having a space to call our own, whether we are homeowners, privately renting, or a social housing tenant. The type of tenure we hold should not and does not matter.

CIH wants to see an end to the stigmatisation and subsequent residualisation of social housing; to achieve this it is important we move away from the building of single-tenure social housing estates. Instead, a move towards mixed-tenure developments will better support sustainable communities, facilitating a mix of people from different community and income backgrounds. The move by local governments to incorporate a minimum threshold for social housing in all new developments as part of their local development plan will go some way to tackling this, and it is important as we begin to see planning applications flow back into the system in the coming months that local councils hold fast to delivering on this commitment.

N.B. CIH would like to take this opportunity to commend our members across the sector who worked tirelessly to provide ongoing services to tenants throughout the pandemic.

If you would like to get involved in #TheReset, either as an individual or as part of an organisation, please do get in touch by emailing us at [email protected] with an idea for inclusion in a range of articles or events over September and October.

Donate to keep Slugger lit!

For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.

Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger.

While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.

If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.