Housing bodies back call for social housing forum to end ‘confusion’

Councillor Darren O'Reilly. DER2314-114KM
Councillor Darren O'Reilly. DER2314-114KM

Housing Associations involved in new social housing developments have welcomed calls for a forum to address confusion around allocations and help integrate new estates.

Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly made the call as he stated that around 90 percent of his work as a councillor relates to social housing and new estates.

One of the social housing projects currently under construction in Derry. DER3116GS074

One of the social housing projects currently under construction in Derry. DER3116GS074

“The main issue I see at the minute in the town is the shortage of social housing,” he said. “We, as councillors, are inundated with housing requests. We are constantly dealing with families in crisis, families in extreme housing stress, people with complex medical needs, and they are all in the same pot for the same houses effectively.”

Colr. O’Reilly said that the points needed was often dictated by demand and availability of housing. “In the new areas, the likes of Skeoge Road, there is a lot of turnover of properties because there are a lot more properties being built. The Northland Road and Springtown Road are future developments areas that are being built as we speak,” he continued.

“The problem we are facing are the same as the Housing Associations are facing, is that a lot of people are seeing these developments being built and are saying, ‘I want to get on that list’ and want to see what the points are for them and when they will be allocated. They are just being put back and put back and put back, and there is uncertainty.

“There have been interviews with some of the Housing Associations about possible tenancies and it was about any previous issues as a tenant etc., but people perceived them as offers and thought they were going to be getting offers. There’s a lot of miscommunication floating about whereby people are maybe not aware of what is happening, and are talking to others and getting secondhand information and then coming to me to get clarification, and I’m not aware even of the information.

Paul Armstrong.

Paul Armstrong.

“So the difficulty from councillors’ points of view, and from the point of view of community people who deal with housing, and even sometimes from Housing Executive officers, is that we are not aware of the information about these developments.

“So I am calling for a forum to be established among the housing associations, councillors and those in the community who would help and support people with housing. The Housing Executive should bring us together and have a clear communication plan for the development - even prior to it starting - and then right through that whole process of allocation, a clear pathway and accurate information which can be given out so that wrong information is not given out and, in turn, they are not being bombarded day and daily as a housing organisation with people asking questions.”

Colr. O’Reilly said such a forum could help support tenants with integration into new estates, to build good relationships among neighbours and sustainable communities.

“Because there is a variety of different housing associations now and new ones being established, we need coordination to get information out to people in extreme stress and pressure trying to live with the situation they are in, be they homeless, in housing stress or temporary accommodation for example,” he added.

Responding to the call for a forum, a spokesperson for Clanmil Housing Group commented: “Clanmil would welcome the opportunity to participate in a Housing Forum for Derry and Strabane. We have recently attended the first meeting of a North and West Housing Forum established by the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations.

“We currently have 88 new homes on site in the Derry area and are seeking planning consent for a further 54.

“We are also exploring a number of opportunities to provide more much-needed homes in the area. A Housing Forum bringing together all those with an interest in providing homes and helping tenants settle into their new communities would be a positive way forward, given the growing number of families in the area who need a home.

“We would be keen to contribute.”

A spokesperson for Apex Housing Association meanwhile said: “Apex welcomes Councillor O’Reilly’s call for the setting up of a social housing forum and if it were to proceed would play an active role in its deliberations.”

The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations’ deputy chief Executive Paul Armstrong said they would welcome new opportunities for further engagement.

Mr Armstrong said: “Towards the end of January, NIFHA set up a North & West Forum for housing association staff based locally. Initially this forum is looking at the roll-out of Universal Credit to ensure that we can share best practice and help tenants adapt to this new system.

“The Housing Executive determines need and oversees the allocation process for new tenants. The Department for Communities recently held a consultation on the allocations policy. In our response, we set out a number of proposals which we believe would help to make the process better. We want to see the NI Assembly and Executive restored in the near future. It is crucial that we get a minister in place to be able to take these recommendations forward.

“While NIFHA and our members already speak with the Housing Executive and Councils on a wide range of issues, we would welcome any new opportunities to further this engagement.”

The Housing Executive (HE) have said they are “always keen” to work with the local community and elected representatives to find solutions to housing issues.

A HE spokesperson said they are well engaged locally regarding housing issues on a number of fronts.

“The HE present our Housing Investment Plan to local authorities across the north and that local area manager Eddie Doherty carried out a further presentation to elected members in council chambers‎ dealing with local issues and the restructuring of the Housing Executive’s district and housing solutions teams;

“Mr Doherty has recently met all political parties including independent councillors to discuss a broad range of housing issues. He has been appointed to the Chair of the Derry & Strabane District Council’s Civic Forum for Homelessness. Earlier this week, HE representatives gave a presentation on our strategy ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ to the council’s Civic Forum.

“We are also developing the Local Housing Strategy for the West and inviting discussions with many service providers.”

She added that the HE is engaged in Community Planning and Local Development Plans, and with community groups and local representatives looking at housing need, social and affordable housing developments.”

The Housing Executive confirmed last Autumn that there were over 4,300 applicants for social housing across Derry and Strabane.

Just under three-quarters of the families and single people waiting for social housing across the city and district are deemed to be in housing stress. Over a quarter of those on the list were accepted as being homeless.

The Housing Executive has also said that over 2,500 new homes are needed over the next three years. During the year to the end of March 2017, a total of 725 social homes were allocated locally.

Local councillors have repeatedly called for more bungalow provision to be included in new social housing developments.