Local councillors have highlighted to the Housing Executive concerns about the impact of the Bedroom Tax on Derry families and anti-social behaviour in certain estates.
The Housing Executive has a current stock of around 9,000 units in Derry and said, if allowed, it would like to build again with a focus on smaller sized family units.
A HE representative identified welfare reform and an end to mitigation as a “major concern” of its tenants. It will result in an increase in “rental arrears and evictions”, he warned.
In the past year 2,079 households presented as homeless, representing a 4% increase,
1,315 of those were accepted as homeless.
Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy praised Housing Executive staff but said there is a housing crisis, homelessness has peaked, and demand is outstripping supply.
She said a report by economic expert Paul Gosling indicated that it would take 22 and a half years for everyone currently on the waiting list to be housed - Foyle has one of the worst with people waiting 3-5 years. “A lot of people could die before they are housed,” Cllr Duffy added.
In response Housing Executive Chief Executive Clarke Bailey said that around 3,000 people, a third of its tenants, could be impacted by the Bedroom Tax which represents “significant challenges” going forward.
Work has been undertaken by the HE and support services to help those who will be affected. He added that the HE would “love” to build new properties again and welcomed the support of councillors in that respect.
Speaking at the meeting, People Before Profit Councillor Shaun Harkin said there is a housing crisis that will only get worse under Universal Credit once mitigation come to an end. He opposed privatisation of the Housing Executive and said it should be allowed to build.
He said people in the Supporting People Programme deserve a pay rise and questioned the decision to close buildings in order to move services online.
Meanwhile, Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly paid tribute to Housing Executive staff who he described as “very open and transparent”. He said there is an agenda to destroy the Housing Executive by stealth.
“Housing Executive staff are very concerned as they know what’s coming down the line - a tsunami of trouble,” Cllr Donnelly added. In his view, the difference between the HE and Housing Associations is like night and day.
The Independent Cllr said people have serious drug and alcohol addictions but lack the appropriate support which causes “a lot of difficulties for other tenants”. It is a “recipe for disaster” and we will see “more and more” of it as time goes by.
Sinn Féin Councillor Aileen Mellon shared his sentiments about mental health and addiction, and called for investment in community planning.
While, People Before Profit Councillor, Eamonn McCann, said there have been open discussions about selling off Housing Executive stock and described Housing Associations as halfway between privatisation and social housing.
“The existence of the Housing Executive is one of the great victories for the people of Northern Ireland. It wouldn’t have happened if thousands hadn’t gone to the streets and there wouldn’t be a points system if we demanded that it was done away with.”
SDLP Councillor Sinead McLaughlin commended the work of the HE and its plans for investment. However, she feels the current points-based system is discriminatory.
Good quality houses are being built, but people are being placed in estates where they are subjected to “unacceptable behaviour”. She said: “Practically not a day goes by without someone saying they’re in a new home that they’ve waited so long for but there’s anti-social behaviour on an hourly basis.”
She asked what sort of behaviour would make someone exempt from social housing and said that 200 points for intimidation makes it an uneven playing field. People hop from places to place, she said, which creates a barrier for “genuine applicants” and Cllr McLaughlin suggested intimidation points should be in line with domestic abuse.
Removing tenants from its properties is a rarity, a HE representative said, and people would only be brought before the courts in such circumstances two or three times per year. Intimidation points in a particular issue in Derry, he explained.
There were over 60 cases last year and the HE is working with police to determine “credible threats”. He agreed it shouldn’t be 200 points.
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