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By Eamon Sweeney The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) in the Mid Ulster and Causeway Coast and Glens district electoral areas currently have almost 1,500 people who are deemed to be homeless on their books, the County Derry Post can reveal. And, the organisation has also had to spend upwards of £2.5 million providing storage for the furniture of those without accommodation across Northern Ireland in the last five years. In the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area there are currently 853 people deemed to be homeless. The figure for the Mid Ulster District Council area is 644. The information came to light after the County Derry Post asked a series of questions to NIHE. Since 2013 the overall figure spent on providing furniture storage is £2,327,780.51. Between 2013-2014 the figure was £391,819.20; in 2014-2015 it was £459,012.08; in 2015-2016 it came to £453,896.49; that rose to £509,806.63 in 2016-2017 and between 2017 -18 the amount came to £513,246.74. The Housing Executive provides temporary and emergency accommodation at properties within the private rented sector, bed and breakfasts, NIHE owned hostels and privately owned hostels. A spokesperson for NIHE told the County Derry Post: “The Housing Executive in certain circumstances, provides storage for the protection of personal belongings of homeless persons and persons threatened with homelessness, in compliance with the Housing (NI) Order 1988. “Furniture storage is provided by three external companies whose appointment is made by public procurement. The storage facilities are located in Antrim and Belfast.” NIHE also stressed that the costs for furniture storage can vary from year to year as people have their belongings stored for differing periods of time. Therefore, the annual costs can vary from year to year. The Housing Executive collates the information by local council area. And the organisation has a variety of tests to deem whether or not are considered to be homeless. These include whether or not people are staying in temporary accommodation; if you are in a woman’s refuge; if you have suffered or are at risk from domestic violence, terrorist attack, ectarian attack or racist attack. Also you can be considered homeless if you are squatting, a court has ordered you to leave your accommodation or if you are living somewhere afterr the legal tenant has died or moved away. And, the figures show that across Northern Ireland that NIHE currently have a total of 17,500 people deemed to be homeless on their books. The largest number of applicants for NIHE acommodation is in Belfast with a figure of 5,651. Derry City and Strabane District Council area is next on 2,614; Ards and North Down is on 1,315; Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon has a waiting list of 665; Causeway Coast and Glens on 853, Fermanagh and Omagh 388; Lisburn and Castlereagh is on 1,025, Mid and East Antrim on 1,268; Mid Ulster on 644 and Newry Mourne and Down on 1,803. Current Chair of Mid Ulster District Council, Sean McPeake told the County Derry Post: “This certainly underlines the urgent need for a lot more affordable social housing. This issue has not been tackled for a long time and needs to be addressed quickly. “There has to be a better way of spending and investing this money a lot more efficiently.” And DUP MLA for Mid Ulster, Keith Buchanan said: “These figures are alarming and need tackled. Over the next few weeks I have a very timely meetings arranged with the Chief Executive of NIHE and NI Federation of Housing Associations; these figures and the urgent need for additional social housing within the Mid Ulster area will be raised. “Increasing the supply of social housing is one of the biggest problems faced by NIHE. We must ensure that everyone has the opportunity to access good quality housing at a reasonable cost." Meanwhile a renowned housing expert has told the County Derry Post that there needs to be a major rethink on the strategy for the provision of social housing. Paddy Gray is Emeritus Professor at Ulster University’s Belfast School of Architecture and the Built Environment. He said: “Government certainly needs to make more of an effort. The Housing Executive don’t build homes anymore, it is now housing associations provide the building of schemes now, some of which are then adopted by NIHE. “The figures in the last few years show that the housing associations are meeting targets, but it’s the targets themselves that I would question. The targets for providing more social housing were provided by government but they didn’t take into account the deficit that was already there before the new targets were set in the early noughties, between 2003-2007. “The annual market reviews for property show a shortfall. But, there’s also a high demand in some areas where people want to live but cannot get to live there. The absence of an administration in Belfast also isn’t helping the situation. “There was a review of the housing situation underway, but that has been stalled because of Stormont not being there. “Also there is the situation of people being awarded housing points because they are claiming initimidation. There are of course many genuine cases of intimidation but I’d suggest that some cases are a lot more genuine than others. This mean the less genuine cases get priority over those who are in bad need of emergency accommodation. “There needs to be a serious review of the overall situation and at the moment that’s just not happening.” Sinn Fein representative for Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Councillor Sean McGlinchey told the County Derry Post that if the NIHE and other housing associations weren’t there, that the shortfall in social housing would be more acute than it is already. He said: “Their hands are effectively tied at times. They can only deal with the funding available to them and that needs to come from central government. Anytime I have dealt with the Housing Executive they have been helpful, more than helpful. “Even in the last weeek I have dealt with a couple of young men in the Dungiven area who cannot get housed. They are living with other people but just can’t get their own accommodation. “There’s a lack of a proper plan at central level. As part of the proposed masterplan for Dungiven, for example, we have included the need for rezoned land for building social housing. I also deal with the Salvation Army a lot and they too know there’s an awful shortfall in accommodation across the borrow that is affecting not just Dungiven but Limavady and Magilligan as well. “It’s not an issue that’s going away and is going to get worse in the next five to 10 years unless it is dealt with.”
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