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Fortwilliam is chosen for pilot scheme despite Duncairn having five times more empty houses

Area for housing scheme queried

By Gemma Burns

Housing minister Nelson McCausland has come under fire for his selection of a pilot area in North Belfast to tackle the empty housing problem despite another area having five times more empty homes. The social development minister announced last week he was taking action on empty homes in a bid to reduce the housing waiting list and chose two pilot areas to tackle the problem, Fortwilliam and the Upper Newtownards Road.

Those two areas were chosen despite the Duncairn area of North Belfast having five times more houses sitting vacant than Fortwilliam. Latest figures from the Department of Finance show that in the Fortwilliam electoral ward there are 111 vacant properties, compared to a massive 582 houses lying empty in Duncairn.

Earlier this month the North Belfast News revealed that almost 2000 homes lie unoccupied in North Belfast alone, while 2403 people languish on the housing waiting list. Of those on the waiting list 966 of those on the list are Catholic, 454 people are Protestant and 983 are described as another religion or religion undisclosed.

Sean Brady, local development worker with human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights Project, said the pilot areas should have been chosen by the area with the most objective need.

“Everyone has a right to adequate housing,” he said.

“However, this decision needs to be taken in the context of the Minister’s actions as a whole across housing including the decision to create a city centre waiting list which impacts negatively on north Belfast, the decision to delay new build social homes on Girdwood, and the absence of any strategy whatsoever to deal with housing inequality affecting Catholics across North Belfast.

“This is very concerning. The Minister’s decisions need to be closely scrutinised and challenged where necessary.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for Social Development said the two areas were chosen because they best suited the needs of the pilot project.

“These areas were chosen due to the location, demographic, level of housing demand, numbers of empty homes and the variance in condition of the empty properties, which will allow the full range of interventions to be assessed,” she said.

The pilot project will examine what is available in terms of advice and signposting to practical help such as grants and loans, and what enforcement powers exist. Work will be carried out by the Housing Executive with the relevant interventions identified by April 2012, and any necessary actions planned. The results will be used to inform a new empty homes action plan for the North.

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