Council challenges Housing Executive ‘death by a thousand cuts’

Protesters gathered outside the Guildhall on Thursday afternoon.
Protesters gathered outside the Guildhall on Thursday afternoon.

Derry & Strabane Council have voiced their opposition to the transferring of publicly-owned Housing Executive homes in Derry over to housing associations.

The move followed a protest at the Guildhall yesterday by Bogside residents who have been notified that their tenancy may change to associations, backed by campaigners and various councillors.

SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack.

SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack.

Several protesters also attended the meeting inside the Guildhall, with one man holding aloft posters stating ‘Hands Off Our Homes’.

In the first of three separate motions on this issue due to be tabled at the Council’s full monthly meeting at the Guildhall on Thursday, SDLP Councillor Shauna Cusack proposed the council formally oppose “the Department’s transfer of NIHE stock to Housing Associations as a means of destabilising the organisation”.

The Council also expressed concerns for the “financial implications” such transfers “will present to families on low incomes and reliant on Housing Benefit to pay increased rents”, while it would also spell job losses at the Executive.

Speaking to the motion, Colr Cusack said: “The Housing Executive as a whole was, and still remains, pivotal in shaping the lives and futures of the citizens of Derry and District.

“The NIHE is not only a landlord, a heavyweight stakeholder and community investor, but also a major Employer especially here in the Council area.”

She added that an attempt to kill off the Housing Executive through ‘death by a thousand cuts’ must be strongly resisted.

“Any change within one function, branch or service within the Housing Executive automatically has an immediate impact on another,” Colr. Cusack said. “This is why the DSD Departmental programme to transfer 2000 of their stock within the region, which includes the 220 plus homes in the Bogside of this city, will have immediate, far reaching and long term negative consequences for tenants, communities, HE staff and most importantly future generations.”

Sinn Fein Councillor Tony Hassan said that it was well known that the DSD was “hell bent” on running the Housing Executive down, and claimed workers would not be reinterviewed for positions within the organisation.

He also proposed an amendment to the motion to the effect that any future any decision regarding the Housing Executive must be brought to the floor of the Assembly before the board would be allowed to approve it.

“I have no doubt about it Sinn Fein will not support anything coming to the Assembly floor that is endangering the Housing Executive,” he said.

He also called for the Housing Executive to be given the right to borrow finance so it could build new homes and also allow it to carry out more work for current tenants.

The amendment was passed by the majority of councillors, and the overall motion was passed after 23 councillors backed it, with none voting against and 10 abstaining.