Social housing applicants with disabilities being ‘short-changed’ - Durkan

Only three social housing bungalows were completed in Derry last year, figures obtained by Foyle MLA Mark H Durkan have revealed.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 7:51 am
Foyle SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan.

The data was obtained through Assembly Questions and shows that only 164 bungalows were built in the last five years across Northern Ireland despite 8,072 applicants currently awaiting ground floor accommodation.

While social housing building in general has ramped up across the north west in recent years with a number of flat complexes among the new homes being constructed, in the Foyle area just 36 bungalows in total have been completed in the five years to April 2021, and this is the largest number for any Council area in Northern Ireland. In West Tyrone just six bungalows have been built over the five years.

SDLP MLA Mr Durkan today expressed concerns that the accessible social housing build is “not keeping step with demand throughout the North”.

The Foyle MLA commented: “Figures obtained from the Department of Communities on the demand for accessible housing versus the number of bungalows being built throughout the North, are beyond concerning.

“Day to day, my office is contacted by constituents seeking housing support. A lot of those cases involve applicants with mobility issues waiting years for suitable accommodation- many forced to sleep on their sofa, seek assistance for bathing and in one instance I spoke to a lady who had no other option but to resort to crawling on her hands and knees upstairs every time she needed to use the bathroom.

“These people are desperate to regain some semblance of independence yet their housing situation has not been conducive to their needs. Accounts such as these are unfortunately not unique and it makes these figures all the more startling.

“Bungalow build in the majority of constituencies are in single figures- Mid Ulster for example only built one bungalow within a five-year period. How then can we give assurances to disabled applicants that they will be provided for?

“And while I appreciate that the requirement for ground floor accommodation can be met through alternative types of housing such as flats and not solely bungalows, the figures are startling nonetheless. Otherwise, at the current rate of bungalow construction we would be waiting in the vicinity of 244 years just to clear the existing waiting list for ground-floor social housing. We cannot place further barriers on people with disabilities, especially when it comes to securing suitable housing.”

Local representatives have repeatedly called for more bungalow provision in the city and district over the past decade, and Mr Durkan said these figures further underscore the importance of allowing the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to build again. “And I have a sneaking suspicion that the reason bungalow figures are so unforgivably low, comes down to the simple fact that they aren’t profitable,” he claimed.

He continued: “The need for increased social housing here is prevalent and I fear will become even more so as we enter a post-pandemic landscape. And despite the Minister’s assertion that social build targets have been met this year, considering that 59% of the target build was not met last year, this cannot and should not be painted as a success story. Unfortunately, the North’s social housing stock is nowhere near the level it needs to be.

“Meanwhile individuals, families and in this case many people with disabilities- continue to struggle in overcrowded conditions and properties wholly unsuitable to their needs- a battle which has been fully realised over the past 12 months.

“The creation of improved and indeed accessible social housing must remain a key objective going forward. The Department for Communities have just launched a public consultation on the Housing Supply Strategy and I would encourage anyone struggling on housing waiting lists to share their experiences and help inform this piece of work going forward.”