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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

Interested in NI social housing? Here's your chance to join the debate on its future


CIH Northern Ireland policy and practice expert Justin Cartwright takes a look at Rethinking social housing NI and encourages people to get involved.

Our latest project Rethinking social housing Northern Ireland has been launched. Sponsored by the Department for Communities, it will compliment the CIH project currently underway in England that was launched in the wake of the Grenfell tower tragedy.

The reasons for this project are clear – it’s time to have a wide-ranging debate about the purpose of social housing and to inform future policy direction.

The project combines original research and engagement with the sector, tenants, politicians and the public to explore fundamental questions including what social housing is, what it does and who it is for.

These questions are transferrable enough that on first glance it might be thought that an additional project for Northern Ireland isn’t needed. The reason we decided to launch the Northern Ireland project is that housing policy here differs remarkably to the experience in England in a number of ways.

CIH recently revealed that 150,000 homes for social rent in England were lost over the five years to 2017, mostly due to homes being converted to ‘affordable rent’ or sold under the right to buy.

While Northern Ireland has the right to buy (which has also applied to housing associations since 2003/04), the number of sales since the housing market crash remains small.

Furthermore there is no equivalent to ‘affordable rent’. Housing associations receive capital grant for new build social housing at a rate of around 50 per cent, enabling them to keep their economic rents affordable in the true sense of the term.

When this is combined with a broad political consensus in favour of new social housing and relatively high priority given to its investment, the social housing stock is added to year on year.

Finally, while conversations around the ‘societal’ value of social housing in England have included things like enabling the civic participation of tenants and facilitating social mix through section 106 agreements, Northern Ireland remains more traditional.

Northern Ireland is the only region across the UK and Ireland without a system of developer contributions for social and affordable housing. Tenure mix is decided at the local level, with larger social housing developments sometimes including a proportion of shared equity homes through Co-Ownership Housing.

And in recent years social mix has taken the form of ‘shared housing’, where specific schemes aim to achieve a mix of people in housing need from both Protestant and Catholic community backgrounds, since social housing remains highly segregated in religious terms as a result of the Troubles.

So when we ask the fundamental questions of Rethinking social housing – what social housing is, what it does and who it is for – but in the Northern Ireland context, the debate begins in a different place and will very likely end in a different one as well.

Nevertheless a local debate is timely, as we work to a new programme for government in Northern Ireland that recognises the need to close the gap between housing need and supply, but within a strategic policy framework that has not changed much over the last couple of decades.

So whether you are a housing or associated professional, tenant, member of the public or political party staff or representative, we want to hear your views on the future role and purpose of social housing in Northern Ireland.

What do people think social housing should be? What is the value of social housing? How can providers make sure their work is relevant and responsive to people's housing requirements? And how can government maximise the potential of social housing to provide housing solutions?

Your views will help to inform thinking around the future direction of social housing in Northern Ireland. If you would like to have your say as an individual, take our short Rethinking social housing Northern Ireland poll. Or if you would like to participate in one of our upcoming project workshops near you, register your interest.

Justin Cartwright is policy and public affairs manager at CIH Northern Ireland.

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