THE SDLP’s Social Justice Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has called for a fair and equitable approach to social housing in the North.
Mr Durkan comments follow his defeated amendment to the Housing Amendment Bill in the Assembly which sought to extend the end of the mandatory Right to Buy Scheme for Housing Associations to include the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
And he attacked Sinn Fein’s “hypocrisy” for not supporting his amendment who had previously supported scrapping the Right to Buy scheme.
Said the Foyle MLA: “The Right to Buy scheme has provided many families here with their only opportunity to get on the property ladder.
“However, the perennial chronic social housing shortages and now the impact of Covid-19 on our housing crisis cannot be ignored.
“The right to own a property is trumped every time by the fundamental human right of having a roof over one’s head.
“It is for that reason I proposed that the decision to end the mandatory Right to Buy Scheme for Housing Associations must be extended to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
“As the biggest social landlord here, we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality that the Housing Executive are haemorrhaging housing stock with a whopping 120,500 NIHE properties sold since 1979.
“Can we as a society really afford to reduce housing stock when we are failing to deal with the tip of the iceberg?
“Currently there are 38,000 households on the housing waiting lists, 20,000 in housing stress and 10,000 classified as homeless.
“Yet we are building fewer than 2,000 new social housing units every year.
“Individuals are sleeping on sofas, families are separated often staying in overcrowded homes, many of which are in poor or damp conditions, forced into properties and desperate situations wholly unsuitable to their needs.
“For their sake, it is not sustainable, smart or socially responsible to be selling off around 500 units every year from social housing stock.
“Not only will the decision not to align the Right to Buy scheme create inequalities within the social housing sector but it will likely compound existing issues.
“We cannot ignore the growth of the private rental sector here, it is bigger than our social housing stock and the fastest growing across these islands, that is significantly wrong.”
Mr Durkan added: “Given these concerns and in terms of policy making it is absolutely appalling that the Department’s extensive public consultation on this matter from 2016 and 2018, was not published until the eleventh hour.
“The report highlighted the overwhelming recognition to end the mandatory Right to Buy scheme for all associations, just as my amendment sought to do.
“It is quite frankly mind-boggling in the interests of transparency and accountability that such crucial information was omitted.
“Furthermore, I am baffled at the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein in relation to their opposition to my amendment, considering their previous policy was to scrap the Right to Buy completely.
“The reality also remains that three years of no government has cost the North in the region of £40 million.
“We therefore cannot resort to the Tory austerity ploy but rather must acknowledge that political paralysis has played a hand in deepening the North’s housing crisis.
“The Right to Buy isn’t going to vanish overnight but it is critical that it is addressed.
“The current system is not fit for purpose, and I hope all parties will work together to ensure we can build both more social and affordable housing to address the ever-growing need.
“Housing is an endemic problem and requires a more creative, comprehensive approach from decision makers.”