Homeless Catholic families waiting longer for homes 45 years since Housing Executive moved to end inequality

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Exactly forty-five years to the week since the Housing Executive (NIHE) took control of housing to halt the sectarian allocation of homes in Derry and other nationalist areas, Catholic families are still waiting substantially longer than other groups to be housed, it has emerged.

Mixed families and families from non-Christian backgrounds, as well as older Protestants, are also suffering longer waiting times, the ‘Journal’ can reveal.

The revelations have been made in a new analysis of waiting lists across the North, which was produced as part of the Department for Communities’ ongoing review of the NIHE’s ‘points’ system.

According to Dr. Alison Wallace, who is quoted in the analysis, a number of factors are responsible and that “residential segregation on religious grounds, not least in social housing, means dual markets operate in close proximity and yet properties may not be substitutable for each other.”

Research indicates that religious imbalances in housing today are due to structural factors rather than the policies of discrimination that were followed by the old Londonderry Corporation and other unionist-controlled local authorities from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Eamonn McCann a founding member of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) which fought to end discrimination in housing in the 1960s said the NIHE needed to be properly resourced as the public housing authority to allow it to tackle the many issues still facing it today.

“The Stormont Assembly has deprived the Housing Executive of resources, transferring responsibility to housing associations. Homelessness is again on the rise. We need people power again,” he said.

Referring to the DHAC and Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) campaigns that culminated in the NIHE taking over control of housing on January 1, 1973, Mr. McCann said it was model that had worked well to address discrimination at the time.

“The transfer of responsibility for housing from the unelected ‘Development Commission’ which had replaced the gerrymandered Londonderry Corporation to the NI Housing Trust, together with the institution of a points system, was more significant in Derry than anywhere else in the North.

“A shortage of housing combined with sectarian allocation by a gerrymandered council had been a key factor in the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement.

“That demand had been met, just a couple of years after the October 5 march,” claimed McCann who said that, like then, people need to take to the streets in order to demand properly-funded and accelerated social house building under the NIHE in order to ensure everyone who needs a home can get one regardless of background.

“Neither the armed struggle nor parliamentary action nor endless negotiation achieved such democratic advance so quickly. People power was key,” he maintained.

According to the DfC analysis of housing lists from 2011 to 2016 across all ages, Catholic households without dependants waited slightly longer (34 days) than other religious groups, while those with dependants waited substantially longer (160 days).

Younger Protestant households experienced shorter waiting times than the overall average, while older Protestant households experienced longer waiting times.

And mixed/other religion households generally experienced longer waiting times than the average.