A Stormont Minister has acknowledged that Northern Ireland is facing a homes crisis - as newly-released Housing Executive figures revealed a rapid rise in people on its waiting list.
Margaret Ritchie, who is responsible for housing within the power-sharing Executive, also lambasted her direct rule predecessors over "woefully inadequate" funding for new public sector dwellings.
The Housing Executive has disclosed that its province-wide waiting list total in the financial year 2006/07 was 36,182.
This compares to 31,908 in 2005/2006 and 29,608 in 2004/05, meaning the figure has climbed by 6,574 - 22.2% - in just two years
The surge in property prices in Northern Ireland is viewed as an important factor behind the jump - with more and more people now turning to the Executive because they cannot afford home ownership.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Ritchie reiterated that affordable housing represented her "number one priority" as Social Development Minister.
"The reason I said that was because there are large numbers on waiting lists at the various district offices of the Housing Executive throughout Northern Ireland," she said.
The minister also admitted: "Research would indicate that we are probably in crisis point. Time will obviously tell."
Mrs Ritchie stressed that "a lot" could be done to address the situation, but added: "I would have to emphasise there is no quick fix. It will take some time."
The minister said she is seeking support from her Executive colleagues for funding to build an additional 1,500 new public sector homes this year.
"Because of the rocketing of prices for land, there is only enough money as things stand to build another 611 houses this year," she said.
The minister added: "I think I inherited a woefully inadequate budget from the direct rule administration who obviously set the bar too low for funding the social housing development programme."
The Government is setting up a panel to examine the recommendations of the Semple Review - a major report on affordable public and private housing by retired civil service head Sir John Semple.
The Housing Executive has also revealed that of its waiting list total of 36,182 for 2006/07, just over half were in "housing stress" - people classified as in most need of being housed.
The housing stress total for the year of 19,703 also involves a significant rise. It stood at 17,223 in 2005/06 and 15,527 in 2004/05.
It is estimated by public housing experts that up to 2,500 new social housing dwelling may be needed per year to meet the growing demand.
At its peak, the Housing Executive's stock of homes in Northern Ireland stood at some 190,000. This figure has now fallen to 91,955, primarily due to tenants exercising their right to buy their dwellings.
A total of 2,201 properties were sold by the Housing Executive last year.