Nationalists in North Belfast will be the worst affected if proposals to split the Housing Executive into five separate housing associations, some of whom could be from the UK are implemented, a housing campaigner said this week.

Elaine Burns from the Ardoyne Association was speaking after the North Belfast News learned that a proposal to take the landlord role away from the HE and give the responsibility to five different housing associations is being considered by the social development minister.

The HE was set up in 1971, one of the worst years of the Troubles, in order to prevent political interference in housing. Elaine Burns said if powers for housing allocation are once again taken away from the HE it could lead to serious problems for Catholics on the waiting list.

The HE’s latest figures show that 619 Catholics in North Belfast are classed as under housing stress, the greatest sign of housing need, compared to 220 Protestants.

DSD minister Nelson McCausland is due to make an announcement on its future in September. The minister has been deeply critical of the body in the past and on Monday (July 2), it emerged the chairman of the Executive had resigned. In an email to its 3,000 staff, Brian Rowntree wrote of "personal stress" and "a challenging relationship" with the Department for Social Development.

Any split with in the HE would have to be subject to tenants voting in favour of a transfer.

Elaine Burns said that as nationalists make up the bulk of the housing waiting list they have most to fear about taking powers of allocation out of the HE’s hands.

“Why bring housing associations from the UK in when we could just use the current housing associations here?  This could also see an increase in rent for people,’ she said.

“In the main, the HE has served the community well and played a key role in community interaction.  “What will happen if we bring in a housing association from England who have no idea about the housing situation and the different areas, it would be chaos. Not to mention the potential for job losses in the Housing Executive.”

A spokeswoman for the Housing Executive said the plans are a matter for the DSD. A DSD spokesman said: “A fundamental review of the Housing Executive has been carried out and the Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland is currently considering the proposals coming from the review.”