SDLP Social Justice Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has welcomed the Housing Amendment Bill as an integral tool to tackle social housing need across the North.
However, Mr Durkan has raised concerns with the move to make the right-to-buy-scheme voluntary for all housing associations bar the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Adding this could cause inequality within the social housing sector.
Said the Foyle MLA: “It is lamentable that in 2020 tens of thousands of families and individuals continue to suffer homelessness and housing stress.
“We have a statutory and moral duty to provide homes for those people.
“This bill is an essential tool to enable us, through housing associations, to build and provide more social homes.
“However, it is regrettable that time has not been given for the proper scrutiny and examination of such an important piece of legislation.
“Regardless of the ongoing health emergency, the reality remains that this legislation, and indeed others, has been delayed due to three years without an Assembly- the financial cost of which was given at around £40 million thus far.
“As for social cost, one of the Minister’s officials computed that 700 social homes have not been built as a direct consequence of the pyrrhic stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
“This is entirely unacceptable but I appreciate that now is the time to focus on making things right.
“While not perfect, this is an important bill and a necessary one.
“For too long, too many families here have been without the security of somewhere they can call their own, running the gauntlet of the private rented sector and others living in overcrowded conditions.
“We are failing those people and any measure that can help us to help them is to be supported.
“However, the move to make the right to buy scheme voluntary for all housing associations with the exception of the NI Housing Executive, is a cause for concern.
“It creates an inequality in access to social housing and ownership and could have implications for the administration of the social housing allocation system.
“As things stand, about 10 times as many NIHE properties as housing association properties are sold every year- an issue which I have raised with the Minister Hargey and await more detail on.
“There are other areas which also need to be considered, for example we must ensure that measures are in place to prevent associations selling off better homes while happily retaining homes of a lower standard for social housing tenants.
“The SDLP supports the work of housing associations and co-ownership but it is clear aspects of this bill need to be strengthened to protect and increase our housing stock.
“If we’re serious about tackling housing need then we need substantial investment in new-build housing, we need to empower our housing providers to build more and we need to use every legislative tool at our disposal to do so,” added Mr Durkan.