Concern over ‘pop-up’ digs across Derry city with MLA claiming some landlords ‘capitalising’ on homelessness at Christmas

‘Pop-up’ properties are being used to ‘capitalise’ on homelessness and an under-pressure emergency accommodation system at present, a Derry MLA has claimed.
Karen Mullan, MLA.Karen Mullan, MLA.
Karen Mullan, MLA.

Some landlords are buying up property to claim premium sums for housing people in urgent need of a bed, Sinn Féin’s Karen Mullan has said.

She is concerned victims of domestic violence and people coping with mental health issues are being housed, inappropriately, alongside people with recent experience of the criminal justice system.

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People are being sent in taxis from other parts of the north to be housed in Derry, she told the ‘Journal’.

The Housing Executive, PSNI, Derry City & Strabane District Council, Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) and City Centre Initiative (CCI) have met to discuss the situation.

The PSNI is understood to be concerned about the number of call-outs to temporary accommodation properties in and around the city centre in particular.

Ms. Mullan said: “At Christmas you see these situations escalate because you normally get an increase in the need for emergency accommodation.

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“What we have found is that people are being sent from Belfast, Ballymena and Coleraine and checks aren’t being done.”

She added: “We’ve had ‘pop-up B&Bs’. People are trying to capitalise on this for all the wrong reasons. If you take someone into a B&B for emergency accommodation it’s something like £100. It’s massive money.”

Foyle MLA Karen Mullan said it is essential homeless people are housed with appropriate support for their often complex needs.

The Housing Executive (NIHE)and groups like First Housing and Depaul do stellar work in the city providing these services, she acknowledged.

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“The concern I have is the information I am getting from the PSNI and others is that recently, particularly over the past number of weeks, people are seeing this as an opportunity to make money.

“People are taking somebody and putting them into temporary accommodation and then we are hearing that these same people have bought properties and they are telling the Housing Executive in Belfast that this person is in there but when the person comes down they are very quickly being moved into houses in the area, which is very, very concerning on many levels,” she said.

A NIHE spokesperson said: “As a response to Covid-19, we have seen a significant increase in demand for emergency temporary accommodation as we strive to ensure that no one is sleeping rough on the streets in NI. As a result of social distancing requirements, the number of spaces in voluntary hostels has been reduced.

“A number of different types of accommodation are in use, in various locations across NI, to allow us to perform our statutory duty of providing accommodation for those in need. These include traditional hostel provision, single let accommodation in the private rented sector and bed and breakfast accommodation. Hotels are also used, where required.

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"Placements in these types of accommodation are carefully managed and are for as short a duration as possible, while attempts are made to find more suitable accommodation.

“Over the Christmas period the NIHE will continue to deliver homeless services with the service provided by an out of hours emergency homelessness service on evenings/weekends and any days on which our offices are closed.

"For any individuals who are identified as rough sleeping the NIHE would confirm that the ‘Everyone in’ approach continues to be adopted including for those with no recourse to public funds. The ‘Everyone In’ approach seeks to ensure that any individual sleeping rough is offered appropriate support and accommodation if required.”

Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones said: “This was a very useful and open meeting with partners to discuss how we can address some issues of concern around emergency housing. We explored possible ways we could meet local need for emergency accommodation so we can cater adequately and appropriately for our population both now and in the future.

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“Whilst this is not exclusively a policing issue, PSNI will continue to work with our community partners to find solutions to local issues and to ensure residents of Derry City and Strabane are kept safe.”

The Department for Communities said: “This is an operational matter for the NIHE who have responsibility for homelessness including use of temporary accommodation.

“DfC continues to work closely with the NIHE, other Departments and our partners across the homelessness sector to ensure those who are vulnerable get the right support at the right time.”