Stormont’s Social Development Minister has been angrily condemned after he effectively announced the abolition of the Housing Executive this week.
In a statement, Nelson McCausland said the 41-year-old housing authority, set up to combat housing discrimination by local councils, is “simply not sustainable” and he issued his proposals for a new way forward.
But politicians have spoken out furiously against the move with local SDLP councillor Tim Attwood slamming the minister’s decision to make the announcement in a written statement.
“It is a matter of some regret that Minister McCausland chose to avoid questions by MLAs by using a written statement about the erosion of the NIHE,” he said.
“It is outrageous that Minister McCausland wants to demolish the Housing Executive, which has been a symbol of good public service for decades. The SDLP will continue to defend the Housing Executive, which has efficiently and effectively allocated social housing based on proven need.”
Councillor Attwood said that for such an significant announcement, the statement was light on detail
"There are many key questions that need answers from the Minister,” he said. “How many organisations will be designated the landlord function? How will they be selected? What are the implications for existing housing associations? What work if any will be done to allay the fears of NIHE staff whose morale is at an all-time low and stress at an all-time high given the inevitable impact of welfare reform on housing and on jobs in Housing Benefit?
“The NIHE has performed a hugely important role for over 40 years and has, in the main, done so with distinction. However, while we agree that the organisation needed reviewed in order to improve housing delivery, we fear that the minister has exploited the opportunity provided by this review to deliver a fatal blow in his ongoing vendetta against NIHE.”
Sinn Féin MLA and Chair of the Social Development Committee, Alex Maskey, said any housing review must protect tenants’ rights.
“The review of the Housing Executive began under the SDLP Minister, Alex Attwood, and has continued under Nelson McCausland,” he said.
“The review and the need for fundamental change was recognised and welcomed by all stakeholders including the Housing Executive.
“The Housing Executive was set up in 1971 to address the sectarian allocation of housing and to remove the slum dwellings across the North. It has achieved a good deal but more still needs to be done.
“Sinn Féin’s approach to this review has been very clear. Any outcomes must ensure an increase in social housing provision, the allocation of such housing stock on the basis of objective need and the need to continue to ensure the rights of tenants are protected.”
Frank Dempsey, a longtime housing campaigner with Carrick Hill Residents’ Association, said the development was aimed at saving money rather than looking after the needs of the people.
“This is an absolute disgrace and we are totally opposed to the dismantling of what has been the most impartial housing body here,” he said.
“With the Housing Executive, the ordinary punter on the street knows their landlord and their terms and conditions, so why change it? If we are being honest we can see this is all about profit.
“The minister responsible has a track record and it was clear from the outset he had an agenda to dismantle the Housing Executive.
“Over the next few days we will hear voices of condemnation, but this has been happening for a long time, if more voices had been raised before we wouldn’t be in this position today.”
Alison Millar, Deputy General Secretary of the public service union NIPSA, expressed concern about jobs being lost amid the changes.
“While this announcement will not be a surprise to NIPSA members, it will be of concern that the body which has been successful in the delivery of social housing in Northern Ireland for over 40 years is to effectively be abolished.
“NIPSA have engaged with all political parties on the future of the NIHE and argued for its retention. It was clear then and since that whatever the future of the NIHE was to be that there was not political support for its retention in its current form.”