19 Jul 2022

Elevating housing in the programme for government will help tackle chronic shortages

In 2020 the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland was restored, bringing an end to a three year political impasse. The New Decade, New Approach agreement that delivered consensus among parties to restore power-sharing included a commitment to a specific housing outcome in the Programme for Government (PfG).

Every household has access to a good quality, affordable and sustainable home that is appropriate for its needs.

For the first time, housing was to be delivered as a specific outcome, as opposed to interwoven through a number of key priority areas as seen in previous programmes. Therefore, when the publication of the subsequent draft outcomes framework omitted a specific housing outcome, hopes of taking a different approach were stymied.

Housing is not a standalone issue and should not be treated as such. The wide-ranging impact that good quality, affordable and sustainable homes has on tenants and communities must be recognised, as well as the complex issues faced by those who need a home but cannot access one. With the right housing outcome and indicators, the government can work to prevent undue focus solely on the activity of building houses.

Each PfG outcome has its delivery plan, which will potentially have senior responsible owners from multiple different departments. This structure should facilitate cross-departmental working and enable appropriate budgetary allocations to be made. This mechanism would copper-fasten the delivery of a new Housing Supply Strategy, which could stimulate much needed cross-departmental work on homelessness, housing support services and the building of new homes.

In March 2022, the social housing waiting list stood at 44,426, an increase of 18.2 per cent over the last five years. Of the 44,426 on the waiting list, 23,978 were full duty applicants found legally homeless by the Housing Executive – 54 per cent of the total. It is therefore crucial that housing and homelessness are prioritised by the Executive through the inclusion of a specific housing outcome.

Therefore, CIH was pleased to have received reassurance from the head of the civil service, Dr Jayne Brady, that work remains ongoing regarding this matter. Dr Brady has assured us that consultation and engagement, including that in relation to the need for a standalone housing outcome, has informed work to produce a final draft PfG. Although an incoming Executive will have the final say on its inclusion, recognition by the civil service of the need for a step change in dealing with housing is welcome.

As it stands, CIH has engaged with various sectoral partners, departments, outgoing executive ministers and senior officials to ensure that a specific housing outcome is included in any forthcoming programme for government to meet the chronic housing needs of our communities here. Failure to deliver this risks the misplaced focus on bricks and mortar while overlooking the inter-relation of housing and health and well-being, as well as the ability of housing to bolster economic recovery at a time of increased cost of living and rising inflation.