Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Northern Ireland housing crisis will be focus of summit

Spiralling job cuts across Northern Ireland are causing an increase in house repossessions, a major conference is to be told today.

The growing crisis currently facing housing in the province — against the backdrop of a 34% fall in property prices — is due to come under the spotlight at a ‘summit’ of specialists, academics and executives.

The gathering in Belfast has been organised to examine “a time of unprecedented change” for housing, with Executive Minister Margaret Ritchie expected to spell out the extent of the crisis, which includes:

  • Fewer houses being built,
  • Increased waiting lists, and
  • More receiving housing benefits.

As the level of job losses rises, so does the number of house repossessions. Falling land values also mean reduced funding for investment, along with the lower availability of credit and the target of 5,250 social houses to be delivered over the next five years.

A panel of experts from Dublin, Glasgow, York as well as Northern Ireland intend to probe the impact of the credit crunch on meeting future housing needs.

“The housing bubble has contributed to the current crisis which in turn is having a direct impact on the housing sector in Northern Ireland.

“Although falling prices mean more affordable housing for some, the increased difficulty in obtaining credit has made the market less accessible for others,” an introduction to the gathering in the Stormont hotel said.

“The tightening of public sector budgets is putting capital spending plans under pressure. As the number of job losses grows daily so too does the number of house repossessions.”

Finance Minister Nigel Dodds recently approved a £10m reallocation cushion to be spent on house building, home improvements, grants and repairs which had previously faced being suspended.

However, the Housing Executive, whose chief executive Paddy McIntyre is among those attending today’s conference, still faces a financial gap, with projected house sales — which two years ago stood at 2,000, generating an annual income of £100m — falling to just 50.

Before Christmas Ms Ritchie had identified a £30m shortfall within her own budget which could have been used to sustain jobs in the beleaguered construction industry.

The Minister had sought to release £30m in unspent cash in her department but claimed Executive colleagues used the money to help fund their economic aid package.

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