Programme for government
CIH director for Northern Ireland Nicola McCrudden says it’s ‘business as usual with a few twists’ for housing, as she gives an overview of the programme for government.
The Northern Ireland Executive has issued for consultation its draft programme for government. On the face of it, the new outcomes based approach appears positive – it’s much more cross cutting, requiring buy in from all departments to deliver.
Surprisingly, having good quality homes fails to make it into the top 14 strategic outcomes which gives cause for concern. Instead housing has two indicators (out of 48) to assess whether we are “turning the curve” in the right direction. These are the number of households in housing stress, and the gap between the numbers of houses we need and the number we have. Success will be measured against these, but I can’t help but feel we risk overlooking some critical factors around homelessness, health and shared communities.
A housing delivery plan – currently in draft form – will underpin the proposed indicators. This sets out strategic direction of travel.
Turning the curve in terms of supply will mean increasing the number of homes. Government is committed to providing 9600 social homes to 2021. However, with 22,000 currently in housing stress this doesn’t seem like enough, but meeting targets will be challenging for housing associations particularly with reductions in rental income as welfare reform cuts kick in.
First time buyers will be assisted – 3750 through Co-ownership Housing or “similar schemes” with new affordable housing products introduced to help others. Addressing the undersupply of appropriate housing for older people and those with disabilities is specifically mentioned, with the introduction of “new products” to the market.
CIH particularly welcomes government’s commitment to release public land for housing and would like to see targets to help realise this objective. Gearing up for the supply challenge across tenures will take intervention and it is encouraging to see government keen to examine ways to support the construction sector and stimulate growth. Speeding up the planning process for housing delivery and addressing capacity and skills shortages in the industry are just two measures identified.
There is more emphasis on the development of mixed tenure and mixed-used sites “underpinned by a shared ethos” – although the conscious absence of developer contributions is noted. The Fresh Start Agreement came with a healthy capital investment fund and it is intended that a programme of financial incentives will be created to stimulate such developments. Funding for revenue projects to also help build communities and promote integration will also be needed.
There are measures to enable access to good quality, affordable homes including: new fitness standards; a private rented sector strategy; and a new system for the assessment and allocation of social housing (details of which are imminent). Homelessness is clearly a priority with a new strategy focusing on prevention and tackling of chronic homelessness; roll out of a housing options service; advice provision and greater use of floating support in the private rented sector. A review of homelessness legislation has not been identified but is certainly something CIH will be pursuing.
Of course grasping the nettle that is the Housing Executive’s future has not gone away. Government clearly remains committed to finding a fundable, affordable mechanism to maintain its stock to a “common adopted standard”.
It is fair to say that the draft housing delivery plan is largely business as usual, although it contains some new ideas – including the controversial “pay to stay” proposal dropped by Westminster and a review of social tenancy law and policy to create “greater flexibility”. Both measures have the potential to fundamentally change the nature of secure social housing in Northern Ireland and while we await the debate we would remind government not to lose sight of the meaning of social in social housing.