The man at the helm of the Housing Executive has said that they are facing a reluctance from local landowners to sell off land for housing.
Chief Executive Clark Bailie was speaking as he delivered the new Housing Investment Plan for the Derry & Strabane area 2015-2019 before the local council’s Governance and Strategic Planning Committee this week.
Mr Bailie confirmed that the number of families and single applicants on the waiting list has now reached 4,120, with almost two thirds deemed to be in housing stress and over 1,000 confirmed as homeless.
Mr Bailie said that despite new housing projects and other efforts to tackle homelessness, this represented a jump of 15% “and that’s something we are very concerned about”.
Last year saw 779 housing allocations locally.
The Housing Executive still retains responsibility for 8,990 of the total 55,596 homes in Derry and Strabane, with Housing Associations having taken over a large chunk of the sector.
Over the years the Executive has sold off 11,333 properties to tenants under the Right To Buy schemes.
Insisting that they were “still a major player”, Mr Bailie said that the private rented sector in Derry and Strabane has nearly doubled in the ten years to 2011.
As of now there are almost 6,800 rented property owners in Derry and Strabane registered with the Landlord Registration Scheme. The plan states however that “this represents an undercount as there are 8,995 private tenants in the Council area receiving private housing benefit.”
Renting a three-bed, semi-detached house in Derry’s west bank is averaging at £120 to £130 per week, while a two-bed apartment could cost £95 to £105 per week. Weekly rent in the Waterside is usually £10 to £20 cheaper.
Meanwhile the Housing Executive has projected that there will need to be 1,795 units built over the next five years in Derry and Strabane, with the areas of greatest need identified as the west bank of Derry, followed by Waterside, Strabane Town and Eglinton.
The report states: “Single, elderly and small adult households comprised approximately 61% of the DCSDCA waiting list in housing stress.
“Future housing mix in new build developments will need to cater for these household groups along with any potential changes associated with Welfare Reform.”
As of March this year there 583 units under construction locally, most in the west bank of Derry. Of these, 101 were one-bed units.
Speaking about the 90-page Investment Plan, Mr Bailie said: “We produced a four-year plan which we hope fits in nicely with your own Community Plan.
“It is not a rigid document; we see it as a living document. It’s very flexible.”
Mr Bailie admitted that the Executive had “struggled” over the past five to seven years to meet demand, but said they have done as much as possible to improve the quality of homes for tenants, and were committed to supporting people and investing in their stock.
He said that in terms of supporting people the Housing Executive had also been to the forefront and that 40% of HE occupants lived alone and dementia becoming an increasingly major issue.
Mr Bailie said that one of the main issues was finding available land which owners were willing to sell for housing in the current economic climate in areas such as Derry’s west bank.
“We have found a reluctance among people to sell land, or where we do identify a site, quite stiff competition.”
Mr Bailie also said that there was still major uncertainty around Welfare Reform and the impact it will havr on social housing tenants, and said that any change in circumstances for staff working on housing benefit would be handled sensitively and sensible.