The government has been urged to taken action after it was revealed that there are over 1,200 empty homes in the Derry City & Strabane District Council area.
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan has said that efforts must now be made to bring vacant private homes back into use to help some of the thousands of families waiting to be housed.
Mr Durkan was speaking after receiving an answer to an Assembly question he submitted on the number of empty homes in each council area.
The Department for Communities has now confirmed to Mr Durkan that across Derry & Strabane, at the latest count, there were 1,242 empty residential properties.
Figures obtained from the Housing Executive by the ‘Journal’ show that as of June this year, 4,276 families and single people are on the waiting list for social housing in Derry and Strabane. Of these, a total of 3,018 are deemed to be in housing stress.
The Department has also confirmed to Mr Durkan that overall across the North, the number of empty homes now stands at over 20,000.
The information on the number of empty homes is held by the Department of Finance’s Land and Property Services and there may be additional empty homes that have not been registered, as there is no requirement for ratepayers to notify that their property is vacant.
An Empty Homes Strategy 2013-18 was launched for the North several years ago by the then Department of Social Development, but Mr Durkan said there now needed to be a rethink.
“I don’t think its actually had any effect,” Mr Durkan said. “Addressing this properly is not just helping solve the issues of people in need of a home, empty homes can also be a magnet for anti-social behaviour and can drag areas down, with properties more inclined to deteriorate.
“Not only is it necessary for the Department for Communities to step in and up its game in terms of bringing empty properties back into use to help get people accommodation, it is also commonsensical.”
He added: “I think the Housing Executive needs to be more empowered and better resourced to do the job it was set up to do.”
A response from the Department for Communities was not available at the time of going to Press last night.