Concerns were last night raised after it emerged that thousands of Housing Executive tenants across Derry are to be hit with rent increases of almost 5% for the coming year.
The Executive’s 6,895 tenants in the city are this week due to receive letters notifying them of the rent hike, with the first batches of letters issued at the weekend.
This will mean on average that local families will now have to find an additional £160 a year for rent.
Sinn Féin Housing spokesperson Councillor Tony Hassan said the 4.85% increase will spark widespread anxiety locally, especially among those already struggling to cope with severe financial pressures.
He said: “Many people are finding themselves unemployed for the first time or having their hours at work reduced which impacts on their weekly income.
“It can be several months before people get all the benefits and help they are entitled which in turn has a knock-on effect in their ability to pay their housing costs and is causing major financial hardship.”
The Housing Executive meanwhile have said that the jump in rent is necessary to fund a major programme of works across its housing stock.
Colr. Hassan said people had also expressed amazement that they were facing rent hikes when the Housing Executive reportedly handed back £40m they couldn’t spend in a single financial year.
The HE said the new rent levels will be effective from April 6, 2015 and will bring the average rent for a Housing Executive home to £66.60 a week, excluding rates. They also argued that their rents remain “much lower than local housing associations”, with many tenants receiving Housing Benefit support.
Donald Hoodless, HE chairman, said: “An increase in rents is required, so that we can begin a major programme of work across our homes. This means that tenants will benefit from much needed improvements to their houses to deal with disrepair as well as providing new kitchens, bathrooms and external works.”
A spokesperson for Social Development Minister Mervyn Storey said he approved the increase after a request from the Housing Executive.
At an event last month Derry Housing Executive worker Sheena McDaid expressed fears that the organisation was being dismantled and warned that the privatisation of people’s homes was resulting in rent hikes for local tenants.
HE tenants having difficulty paying have been urged to seek advice from the Executive or local welfare officers.