OVER £178 million given by the Stormont Executive to private sector landlords in North Belfast in the last 10 years could have solved housing inequality in the area, a leading human rights group have claimed.

Statistics gathered by the Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) through Freedom of Information show that a total of just under £2.5 billion has been spent on housing benefit payments to private rented sector landlords across the north between 2002-2012. £178 million of that money was spent in North Belfast alone. The cost of building a three bedroom semi-detached house is estimated at around £54,000, meaning that money spent on private landlords would have built close to 3,300 housing units.

As part of last week’s Homeless Action Week, Equality Can’t Wait Residents Group, which has been campaigning since 2012 for a timetabled and resourced strategy to tackle the shortage of social housing especially in Catholic areas of North Belfast, were joined by homeless families in other parts of the city whose experiences have been similar.

The group called on the Stormont Executive to take urgent measures to address the growing problem of homelessness and urged the building of more social housing.

Seán Brady, local Development Worker with PPR said that many of the residents involved had been on the social housing waiting list for up to 10 years, with many having initially been rehoused short term into the private rented sector, only to be forced back into hostels in the face of rent increases, poor conditions and unaccountable private sector landlords.

“The shortage of social housing in North Belfast which overwhelmingly affects the Catholic community, is an issue that has been raised at the highest levels of government by the United Nations this year again,” said Sean.

“The Equality Can’t Wait campaign is now being constantly approached by those impacted by homelessness throughout the city.

“The residents’ experience of housing in the private rented sector shows it is mired in problems and unsustainable. Build social homes where they are needed – anything less than that isn’t good enough.”

Current estimations are that to build a 900ft three bedroom semi-detached house would cost approximately £54,000. Meaning the money spent to private landlords could build 3,296 homes.

Despite the figures the Housing Executive said that it remains committed to the provision of new social housing to meet housing need in North Belfast and plans to deliver 602 additional homes in the area over the next three years.

“The private rented sector plays an important role in the provision of housing in Northern Ireland, and is the tenure of choice for a significant number of people,” a spokesperson said.

“This social housing need is addressed through the reletting of existing social dwellings and the provision of new social homes. Since the launch of the North Belfast Housing and Regeneration Strategy in 2000, a total of 2,577 new social homes have been acquired or built.

“The Housing Executive remains committed to the provision of new social housing to meet housing need in North Belfast.”