WE report today that over 1,000 West Belfast families in housing stress have applied for the 71 new social housing units being built at present in the Clonavogie Gardens development on the Donegall Road. The news is particularly concerning  as it comes at a time of year when our thoughts inevitably turn to family and home.

The disparity in the social housing experience of Catholics and Protestants in the city of Belfast is one that the Housing Executive, despite all the fine work that it has done in some four decades of existence, has never come remotely close to coming to terms with. While the pressure on housing in nationalist districts remains constant and high, loyalist areas are replete with abandoned properties for which there is simply no demand. Indeed, flat complexes and homes have been levelled in loyalist areas close to interfaces for fear that needy Catholics moving in might see the kind of deadly community tension that was witnessed in lower Lenadoon, for instance, in the early 1970s.

All of this is the result of many long years of social and political upheaval; nevertheless, we might reasonably have expected that more progress would have been made in 40 years in allowing more families to have what is theirs by right – warm, dry, safe and affordable accommodation.

That said, there are significant signs to be seen in building sites around West Belfast that the Department for Social Development, through the Housing Executive and the various housing agencies, is beginning to make inroads into the chronic social housing shortage in West Belfast. And with the Glen 10 project out for consultation in February, we can be cautiously optimistic that, at the very least, the extent of the inequality may finally begin to lessen.