Public housing in Northern Ireland is facing its worst pressures in over 30 years — making thousands more effectively homeless, new figures have revealed.
Waiting lists have stretched to more than 40,000 with a further 20,000 people officially in “housing stress”, the statistics show.
The crisis will be examined at a conference in Belfast this week which will hear of the impact of last year’s £100m shortfall in the housing budget, partly due to the collapse of the housing market.
Thus the theme of the conference this Thursday — at which Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie is set to reiterate her call on the Executive to revise the budget to put housing on a “firm financial footing” — will be ‘delivering more with less’.
A guide for the event, also to be addressed by Housing Executive chief executive Paddy McIntyre, said current challenges include “a housing waiting list of over 40,000 with a further 20,000 people in housing stress — the highest level since the 1970s.”
The Housing Executive said the official number it has accepted as being statutorily homeless is currently 8,269, the biggest case load since March 2008.
Just over half of those viewed as homeless are single households (51%), while families including children account for just over a third (34%) and elderly households account for 11%.
An Executive spokesman said: “The major reason cited as the cause of homelessness is relationship or family breakdown representing around 39% of all those presenting as homeless. Other main reasons include the unsuitability of current accommodation, particularly in relation to elderly and disabled households (15%) and loss of private rented accommodation (13%)”.
People who actually sleep rough tend to be largely confined to Belfast and to a lesser extent Londonderry, according to the Housing Executive, which has developed special strategies — providing rough sleepers with access to daytime services and emergency beds — for both cities.
“Homelessness is often the manifestation of the complex needs of individuals which can include mental health issues, substance abuse, domestic violence and so on.” the spokesman added.
In Belfast, HE officials have teamed up with social workers to form a special group able to assess the needs of vulnerable households and discussions are under way to determine how this service can be provided elsewhere.
The conference will also provide a platform for the new Northern Ireland Housing Commission, set up to assess the key issues involved and to “help government shape a long-term vision for housing”. A member, Professor Greg Lloyd, is making a keynote speech.