08 Dec 2020

Housing at the heart of our local recovery

Recent statistics released by the Department for Communities have reaffirmed what the housing sector in Northern Ireland already recognised and understood; the existence of a correlation between areas of greater housing need, with applicants on the social housing waiting list having points for sharing or overcrowding, and areas recording a higher number of positive covid-19 cases.

Where there is an inability to adequately socially-distance or self-isolate from members within the same household as a result of sharing or overcrowding, it stands to reason that the transmission rates within surrounding communities will move at a much more unforgiving pace, with those living within such conditions generally more susceptible to poorer physical and mental health. Indeed, evidence published by the Department of Health suggested overcrowding within homes to be a driver of covid-19 infection, rather than population density.

As highlighted by the statistics released by the Department through an AQW response, the parliamentary constituency of Belfast West has the highest number of applicants on the waiting list with points for overcrowding, and the parliamentary constituency of Foyle has the highest number of applicants on the waiting list with points for sharing  – and both unsurprisingly include postal districts which rank as having the highest rates of covid-19 positive cases.

More than simply highlighting the problem with covid-19 transmission spread, these figures support the well-evidenced understanding that housing and health are inextricably linked.

This week’s roll-out of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccination marks the beginning of brighter days for Northern Ireland. Albeit the start of a long and cautious journey, we will start to see a slow return to the ‘old normal’. However, when it comes to the adequate supply of safe and affordable housing, a ‘new normal’ must be sought and delivered upon in the coming months and years following the pandemic.

If there is to be a true and sustained ‘levelling up’ across society, a renewed focus on the building of new social homes, as well as improving the quality of existing stock, has a huge role to play in initiating the economic recovery via the provision of jobs and the rebuilding of whole communities, as well as tackling widespread health inequalities in the long term.

This ambition is reflected in the Homes at the Heart campaign which is urging the UK Government to put funding for new and existing social homes at the heart of the recovery from coronavirus. It is vital that the Northern Ireland Executive places housing at the heart of our local recovery here also to ensure the permanent alleviation of those families and individuals who are living in housing stress.

Heather Wilson CIHM
Policy and engagement manager, Chartered Institute of Housing Northern Ireland