Over 480 on social housing waiting list in Cookstown - Council to write to Housinhg Minister over NIHE concerns

Councillor James McGarvey
Councillor James McGarvey

COOKSTOWN District Council is set to write to the Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland over proposed reforms of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).

It’s after SDLP councillors pushed the topic for debate at this month’s full council meeting.

Speaking during the debate councillor James McGarvey called on the Minister to ensure that all proposed reforms are established principles of fairness and equality.

He said there were huge concerns surrounding social housing waiting lists in the Cookstown area.

“Housing has always been an issue in Cookstown but I believe that the situation now is as bad as it has been in many, many years,” councillor McGarvey said.

“The evidence of the housing crisis in Cookstown is there for all to see. Over 480 people are on the housing waiting list with over 180 in housing stress, and more than 160 presenting as homeless.

“Outside of Cookstown there are thousands more on the waiting list for homes that just aren’t there and show little sign of being built.

“Yet as demand continues to grow, the Assembly budget for social housing has been reduced.

Councillor McGarvey said a “tsunami” of welfare cuts would further plunge more into hardship and in need of support.

“At the centre of this storm is the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, charged with allocating homes when they do become available,” he added.

In January it was announced the Housing Executive would be abolished and replaced with a new regional housing body.

It is thought its stock of 90,000 homes will be transferred to possibly new housing associations.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said he believed the reforms are good news for tax payers, tenants and those in housing need.

“Whatever the new model of housing, and I hope all political Parties can agree this, it must provide good service to the tenant, good value to the taxpayer and be based on good principles of fairness, equity and need,” added councillor McGarvey during the debate.

“The DSD Minister’s statement has thrown up many questions for tenants, other tax-payers and, not least, the 3000 staff within the Housing Executive. “Will rents rise as a result? Will anxious staff retain their positions in the shake-up? What role will commercial business interests play?

“The greatest fear I have is that the dismantling of the NIHE will also see a move away from its ethos of allocating housing on the basis of need.

“The Executive was formed to take politics out of housing after decades of misrule and political housing.

“Over the last 40 years the Executive has done a great job particularly in tackling unfairness and unfitness in housing. There is a need for structural reform but in no way can reform pave the way for the re-politicisation of the allocation of housing.

“That is why tonight we are urging colleagues in this chamber to agree that we write to the Minister for Social Development to ensure that all proposed reforms are enshrined in the NIHE principles of fairness and equality so that social housing continues to be built where it is most needed, and allocated to the citizens we represent on the basis of objective need”.