Wider discussion of social housing needed

Green Party Leader Steven Agnew has today, 10th October 2016, expressed his hope that a debate in the Assembly about housing associations will lead to a wider review of the social housing sector.
Steven Agnew MLA said “The Assembly debate today around the future of housing associations is welcome, but only addresses a small part of the work that needs to be done in this area. We can’t look at housing associations in isolation. Social housing is a complex issue and this is a perfect opportunity to assess the sector more widely.”

“The Housing Executive needs to find upwards of £300m per year over the next five years to maintain its properties at a good standard. The stock of social housing has continued to shrink due to a lack of investment and Right to Buy. This means that people are being pushed into the private rented sector and the government is picking up the bill for this through Housing Benefit. This is not financially sustainable in the long term. We need to find creative ways to invest in the existing housing stock and build new social houses.

“The Office of National Statistics’ decision to reclassify housing associations as public bodies on 29th September means we must either deregulate housing associations to allow them to continue accessing private investment, or face a housing crisis. However, we should also be aware that this necessarily means reducing the level of oversight that the government has over the size of the social housing stock, where new social housing is built and who manages the social homes.

“In order to ensure that this is sustainable in the long-run, we need a joined-up approach to social housing, and to stop pretending that what happens with housing associations doesn’t impact on the Housing Executive or private sector. The Green Party in Northern Ireland looks forward to playing an active part in these discussions to ensure that everyone in our society is able to meet their housing need.”

END

Notes to Editors
The motion debated was:
That this Assembly notes the likelihood that the Office for National Statistics will reclassify Northern Ireland’s twenty-two housing associations from independent social businesses to public bodies; that this may limit their ability to access private finance to build new homes; that the £1 billion of private debt already on their books could be added to the Executive’s balance sheet, taking the Executive’s total borrowing to levels which would reduce drastically its ability to borrow money for other initiatives across the Executive Departments; and calls on the Minister for Communities to prepare to bring forward urgent legislation to reverse the reclassification of Northern Ireland housing associations so that they can remain classified as independent social businesses.

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