Housing Executive to invest over £1m

THE Housing Executive is to invest over £1 million in Moyle this year

Housing Executive Deputy Chief Executive, Stewart Cuddy, at the annual round of consultations with local councils, has commented on the challenges facing housing in Northern Ireland within the current economic climate.

Speaking about the Northern Ireland wide situation he told Moyle councillors: “Current economic circumstances continue to present unprecedented challenges with reduced overall investment in housing, lack of capital receipts from house and land sales and increasing number of people applying for social housing and Housing Benefit. There are also over 20,300 applications on the social housing waiting list deemed to be in urgent housing need, including over 9,000 accepted as statutorily homeless.

“Housing is only one of many priorities facing government. Health, education and commerce are just some of the areas which are in need of sustained and additional investment. With limited resources available from an already stretched public purse it is therefore essential that priorities are identified and new structures developed to make the best use of existing assets and current income.

“Despite a difficult year it was encouraging that during the year 1,410 much needed new social homes were started, as well as planned maintenance work to over 19,000 of our own stock which exceeded our target. The completion of our three year Rural Homes and People Action Plan, with a record level of social housing starts in rural areas continued to play a key role in rural development and regeneration.

“The Minister has made the provision of double glazing a priority and in the last financial year we made significant progress by upgrading over 5,000 homes, with some 8,500 more planned for the current year.

“The welfare reform programme will directly affect many people. With around 70% of our tenants on benefits, there clearly will be implications for the Housing Executive and this will require careful monitoring. Approximately 27,000 of Housing Executive properties are under occupied. Housing benefits are to be paid directly to tenants. The age threshold for shared accommodation rate has increased from 25 to 35. These are just some of the issues that will impact on our tenants, other claimants and the Housing Executive.

“Over 43% of all households are estimated to be in fuel poverty. This is at a desperately high level and a major worry for many of our most vulnerable tenants. Oil buying clubs, energy brokering and pay as you go schemes are some the measures being currently progressed and evaluated.

“Headline results from the 2011 House Condition Survey did cause some concern, indicating an increase in the level of unfitness from 2.4% to 4.6%, the first reported increase in 40 years. This increase suggests budgetary pressures on households and landlords, and may also reflect the much lower level of resources available to lower income households through a much reduced private sector grants budget.

“While our own Housing Executive stock is generally of a high quality, some 15% does not meet the Decent Homes Standard. At the same time there is an annual requirement for 2,000 new social homes to meet housing need. However former levels of investment in the past years can no longer be sustained and alternative solutions were sought.

“Resulting from this, we transferred 55 homes in the Rinmore Estate, Londonderry, which had not benefitted from an improvement scheme because of funding restrictions. The homes were transferred to Apex Housing Association to carry out much needed improvements through private finance resources. Further transfer schemes are now being considered.

“In June we welcomed the publication for consultation and subsequent discussions of the report by DSD’s consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers into the functions of the Housing Executive and its future role over the next 20 years. The review centred on the potential for other finance models to assist the housing budget and it is widely anticipated that significant changes into the way housing is managed and delivered will be implemented once the findings of the report are announced.

“Ongoing efficiency savings targets will impact on staff numbers and the way we deliver our services. The Housing Executive, for its part, will do all it can, to address the housing needs of everyone in Northern Ireland,” said Mr Cuddy.