Pat Ramsey, MLA for Foyle, offers his opinion on the local housing crisis

Panorama of Derry.
Panorama of Derry.
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LOCAL politics are dominated by two things, inactivity in the ‘House on the Hill’ and the continued deterioration in the social housing sector.

Allow me to discuss some real politics here, not the sham politics of flags or the ‘have they or haven’t they gone away’ fiasco which currently overshadows the political landscape.

Figures released last week by Housing Executive Chief Executive, Mr. Clarke Bailie, revealed that under the leadership of ‘Sinn Fein and DUP do nothing coalition,’ the picture has become even more bleak!

The housing list has grown by 30 per cent during the term of this SF and DUP Executive non-partnership.

DERRY HOMELESS OVER 1,000

Derry now has in excess of 1,000 homeless people. Yet the main partners in government prefer to focus on flags, emblems and the worst kept ‘secret’ in Irish history.

Allow me at this point to praise the work of Housing Executive staff on the ground locally. But for their dedication and professionalism, the situation would be significantly worse.

That they have been left to worry about their own future, as SF, DUP and UUP bicker, was disgraceful. As the political uncertainty grew so too did the future of the Civil Service Voluntary Exit Scheme.

Thankfully a resolution has been reached on the Exit Scheme.

That said, revelations in the Assembly this week that the 149 staff released over the last six months at a cost of over £5 million, seem excessive.

That level of funding would have gone some way to addressing the need for new housing developments and the dearth of suitable accommodation for disabled people?

We are not simply funding the building of homes, but the building of communities. Therefore, a more balanced social mix of housing type is required.

We must work to address the housing needs of the homeless, those on lower incomes, an ageing population and those with disabilities.

The Minister for Health and Social Services, Simon Hamilton, confirmed to me during Tuesday’s Assembly debate on the future of the NIHE, that housing associations have a paltry 3,901 bungalows.

WELCOME NEWS

I welcome the news from Minister Hamilton that: ‘An accessible housing register is being developed to identify the type and location of all current adapted and wheelchair accessible social housing.

‘In addition, the Housing Executive is examining its allocation processes to ensure that best use is made of existing stock to meet need.’

This is prudent course of action. However, I ask how can any organisation restructure to best meet need, if that need remains unidentified?

Drastic steps are required to address the issue. Of course we need to ramp up new build projects, rezone suitable land, increase procurement of stock and importantly and make planning permission for large private developments conditional upon an allocation of stock to affordable housing scheme

A few other difficult steps are also required to address the housing and societal problems we face.

An honest conversation about need versus desire is overdue.

That is, the need for a home is different from a desire to live two doors from your mammy!

Derry is not that big a city, it can be traversed in 10 minutes by car, 60 on foot. Therefore, I suggest removing ‘areas of choice’ from housing applications.

While difficult in the short term, this will have wider long term societal benefits.

The demanding of an estate of choice, simply ensures the continuation of the sectarian patchwork quilt. That division is, in essence, being reinforced by government housing policy.

It is illogical that in 2015 we fund, no, that we accept different neighbourhoods for different religions.

Social housing stock should not be colour coded. This is not an easy step but if we do not attempt to build the inclusive, democratic society in which we wish to live, we’ll never achieve it. Together we are stronger.

“DOLE DROPS” ARE

DETRIMENTAL

In his address to Council, Mr. Bailie stated ‘dole drops’ are a detrimental factor in already stressed stock.

If there are not enough homes for those who need them, we cannot tolerate unoccupied homes. We should especially not tolerate Housing Executive stock being sublet privately.

The Housing Executive states that there will need to be 1,795 units built over the next five years in Derry and Strabane. Yet the UUP decided the best way to achieve this is to abscond from the Ministry with the responsibility for the Housing Executive.

Is that leadership?

It is time to return a party to the Assembly which will make the tough decisions based on fairness, equality and social justice.

That party is the SDLP we stand proudly over our track record on the issue of social housing and strong leadership.