OPINION: ‘The problem of housing is still too real for too many people in our city’

The fight for fair and equal access to a decent standard of housing for people in Derry has been a long one.

Our party’s founder John Hume often recounted how he grew up in a two-bedroom home with his parents and six siblings.

Poor quality housing and the associated poverty was a key inspiration for the civil rights movement, famously crystallised in Austin Curries’ stand at the Caledon squat.

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While we have thankfully come a long way, the problem of housing is still all too real for many people within our city.

SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney.

The latest figures show that nearly 4,600 people are on social housing waiting lists. With nearly 3,400 of those recognised as being in acute housing need.

These are people who are living in overcrowded conditions, often staying with friends and family in a spare room or even on sofas.

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Our social housing waiting lists don’t take into account all those who have been forced into the private rental sector and are struggling with soaring rents and young people who are finding it impossible to save enough for a deposit.

Working in a busy constituency office I am all too aware of the housing crisis impacting people.

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I launched my Derry Housing Survey to give those affected a voice, to hear just how people were being impacted.

“ Even given the depth of the housing crisis – the results were still shocking. Of those who responded, 73% were on a housing waiting list for over a year, with 21% languishing on a list for more than five.

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People expressed concern about the long wait and process for housing adaptions given the high need for them in our city, and over half expressed dissatisfaction with the maintenance response.

An overwhelming 80% of people felt the points allocation system needs reform, we have heard multiple reports of it being open to abuse and manipulation and this needs looked at.

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People also shared their personal experiences. One was forced to live with their parents despite having three children, another reported being on a waiting list for over 14 years and heartbreakingly one described how their brother died homeless after contracting pneumonia.

Put together the results of my survey show one thing – people in Derry are being badly failed on housing.

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There is no quick fix for this problem, we need to see both short and long-term action to put people first by building more social and affordable housing, controlling rents and making use of vacant properties.

The response to this crisis simply hasn’t been good enough. It’s 2022 and everyone should have access to a suitable home they can call their own. People deserve better.

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SURVEY RESULTS

Colr. Tierney has called for a review of the housing adaptions process.

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He was speaking after 37% of respondents to his online ‘Derry Housing Survey’ said they found the process unsatisfactory.

Of those surveyed, 79% said they currently had an adaption at their home because of a disability or other issue.

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Councillor Tierney has also worked with many families who have experienced long waits for adaptions to be carried out.

He said: “Due to our aging population and those with special needs who require extra care and support, there are a huge number of homes in Derry that require adaptions to fit the needs of those who live there. As part of my work in the community I have helped countless families navigate the process to secure adaptions and it can be very challenging to say the least.

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“Many of those requiring adaptions need support just to apply and it can take months and even years for the work to be carried out.

“This can have a significant impact on people living in properties that are not fit for their needs, it can restrict what people can and cannot do and have a negative effect on their quality of life. Many people waiting for this work have told me they feel trapped like prisoners in their own homes.

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“It’s easy to underestimate the impact this has on those affected. When you are disabled or have additional needs these small improvements to your home can transform your life. Given the response to my survey I intend to raise these issues to see what can be done to address this problem and propose that we look at a way of reviewing this process going forward to ensure that everyone has a home that caters to their needs and allows them to live their lives to the fullest.”