Mr Durkan said the creation of the Housing Executive back in 1971 was a watershed moment in the fight for fair housing in the North.
The Foyle MLA said: “The Housing Executive has been a huge force for good in the North over the last 50 years, ensuring fair and equal access to housing for those who need it.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the tireless efforts of staff over the previous five decades who have made a real difference to the lives of people here.”
Mr Durkan also paid tribute to his late party colleague Austin Currie. Mr Currie was the forefront of the housing equality campaign during the Civil Rights era.
“I’d be remiss to let this occasion pass without mentioning the SDLP’s great housing champion Austin Currie, who recently passed away,” Mr Durkan said.
“It was the actions of Austin and other campaigners who refused to accept the unfair allocation of housing that sparked the civil rights movement and directly led to the creation of the Housing Executive to oversee the process.”
Mr Durkan said challenges remain given the waiting lists for social housing here and elsewhere.
“It’s disappointing that such a significant anniversary occurs at a time when the North is in the midst of a stark housing crisis. We have nearly 45,000 people currently on social housing waiting lists and we simply don’t have the social housing stock to house them.
“We also have huge issues around affordable homes, with home ownership being nothing more than an aspiration for a generation of young people.
“In the next 50 years we need to see a return to the principles that the Housing Executive was founded on – good quality social housing for the people who need it most.”