Housing Executive chiefs are poised to buy back hundreds of homes sold off to tenants over the years, it has been revealed.
Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland is bidding for £10m to buy back an initial 160 properties to help ease housing shortages in some areas.
If successful, the programme could be extended in the next financial year.
The executive has identified around 600 homes sold to its tenants under the 'right to buy' scheme – many now vacant.
But Mr McCausland's DUP colleague, former Finance Minister Sammy Wilson, voiced doubts over the bid.
And out-going Housing Executive chief executive John McPeake – due to stand down at the end of the year – admitted details of the scheme are still being finalised. Mr McCausland said it was an opportune time, with housing demand high, to buy back suitable properties.
Mr Wilson warned on-going underspends – in which the department has failed to spend the money allocated to it – could mean its overall budget will be cut.
No indication has been given on the location of the homes which could be bought back.
Mr McCausland said while there are around 30 housing associations in the province – primarily responsible for providing new social housing – only around six or seven of them are involved in building.
Capital receipts from the sale of executive property, which began in the 1980s, are believed to have gone back into Treasury coffers.
The original scheme was revised in 2004.
In 1983 The Housing (NI) Order introduced the 'right to buy' scheme for Housing Executive tenants.
While critics castigated the Conservative Government for selling off the social housing stock, then Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine said the legislation "lays the foundations for one of the most important social revolutions of this century".