Meeting to address social housing needs

Meeting to address social housing needs

5 December 2018

A MAJOR social housing conference is being organised in a bid to come up with solutions to the district’s acute social housing crisis.

The event — due to to take place in the New Year — is being spearheaded by Newry, Mourne and Down Council and aims to get all the key decision makers together to plot a course that can address an issue which local politicians have warned will increase.

At Monday night’s monthly meeting of the local authority, there was across-the-board political support for a motion calling for the major conference scheduled to take place in the New Year with Newcastle one of the key problem areas set to come under the microscope.

The Department for Communities, Housing Executive and social housing providers are being invited to take part in the conference which is being held in Newry, but will examine the district-wide affordable housing issue.

Politicians say they are keen to see all the various stakeholders collaborating to provide short, medium and long term solutions to tackle the crisis.

Cllr Michael Savage, who tabled the motion, said the conference aimed to get key decision makers and strategists under the one roof to improve cross cutting collaboration and the sharing of ideas “to ensure we get to grips with the social housing shortage in our district”.

He continued: “We need to look at key challenges facing our district and organise workshops that can come up with solutions that are imaginative, forward thinking and collaborative. The scale of the crisis is quite simply breathtaking and the figures speak for themselves.”

Mr Savage said an estimated 3,166 applications had been made for social housing district-wide, with almost 2,400 of applicants placed in the urgent need category.

He continued: “These figures highlight the terrible extent of the housing crisis in this district. Enough is enough, it is time for us to take action and time for everyone to put their shoulder to the wheel to tackle this mounting problem.

“The conference is the first step in getting sustainable solutions at a time when the people we represent cannot get a place they can call home. The Department of Communities has an obligation to come and play a lead role because it oversees the Housing Executive and needs to hear first hand the level of need in the district and work with us all to provide collaborative solutions to the problem.”

Cllr Savage added: “We need to explore all the options. Access to a home is a fundamental human right and we need to act swiftly so the current generation is not left without a place to live.”

Cllr Billy Walker said all elected representatives are approached about the lack of social housing on a daily basis and that not one of the part of the district is not affected by the current crisis.

“We need this conference to pull all the key players together and we must be robust with them on this issue. We need solutions going forward and this conference is the perfect opportunity to do just that,” he added.

Cllr Davy Hyland said the council needed to do what it could to find solutions for people in desperate need of housing, while Cllr David Taylor said a lack of resources was not helping the housing crisis which had left people on the waiting list for several years in some cases.

He added: “We need a new social housing strategy and need all the key players to buy into this. We also need funding to meet the demand which exists.”

Cllr Andy McMurray said he was “acutely aware” of the trauma associated with being on the waiting list for social housing, describing the waiting list figures as “pretty shocking,” while Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly suggested the social housing crisis “has gone well beyond crisis point”.

Cllr Willie Clarke described Newcastle as a priority area and warned that the current social housing shortage has the potential to get worse in the months and years ahead.

He said there is a particular need for accommodation for small families, highlighting the problems social housing providers face when they have to compete with private developers to secure building land. 

Cllr John Trainor said that while work on a major social housing scheme was underway at the old Downe Hospital site in Downpatrick, it was important to plan for the town’s needs over the next five to 10 years.