Belfast Telegraph

Families take campaign to Stormont in despair over Northern Ireland housing crisis

By Amanda Ferguson

Belfast families on the housing waiting list were due to travel to Hillsborough Castle today to deliver a letter to Theresa Villiers requesting she does "what the Stormont Executive has failed to do: address the housing crisis as a matter of urgency".

Following the failure to reach a deal during the Stormont inter-party talks, the Equality Can't Wait group will be accompanied by a 'guitar flash mob' for a rendition of the Crosby, Stills and Nash classic 'Our House' at 4.30pm today.

The Participation and Practice of Rights (PPR) organisation, set up by the late human rights activist Inez McCormack, is supporting the campaign to address housing inequality, particularly in north Belfast.

The issue has been raised as a concern previously by a number of Stormont MLAs, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, and outgoing Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, who described the conditions families endured as "not good enough in the 21st century".

PPR says Catholics in Belfast are worst affected by the shortage of social housing and it is approaching the Secretary of State for a meeting as she "has the power to intervene on "human rights issues".

Elinor Mulligan, Brendan O'Leary and Karen Donnelly, all from Belfast, are among the people raising their voices over housing inequality and are urging politicians to take action for those who are "homeless, voiceless and subjected to endless waiting lists".

Karen's home is over 100 years old and is damp since it was flooded in 2011. She said: "Housing inequality means thousands of families like mine are nothing more than statistics - homeless, voiceless and subjected to endless waiting lists.

"The Equality Can't Wait campaign has helped hundreds of women and children to have their voices heard by decision makers and more come to us every day.

"But still the message falls on deaf ears.

"We want to meet Ms Villiers who has the power to take action on our basic human right to a home."

Last night, a PPR representative told the Belfast Telegraph a recent response to a Freedom of Information request reveals that the issue of housing inequality has not been raised at a series of Executive meetings and therefore a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss her intervention is now necessary.

Sean Brady from PPR said: "Interventions from two UN bodies, the EU Commissioner, the Children's Commissioner and almost half the politicians at Stormont does not come lightly.

"It's a response to the failure of the Stormont Executive to uphold international and domestic agreements.

"It's the result of years of campaigning by families struggling every day with the realities of poor housing and homelessness.

"It's now time for the decision makers to stop talking and to act on the promises of equality they have all made."

For more about the work of PPR visit http://www.pprproject.org/

Three people on the housing waiting list share their stories with Belfast Telegraph readers

'I've been in and out of hostels'

West Belfast mother-of-two Elinor Mulligan has spent a decade in private accommodation and hostels.

Elinor is currently living in fourth floor housing association accommodation in Twinbrook with her nine-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.

She has been on the housing transfer list for the last six years and would desperately like a house.

"I've been on the housing list since I was 17," she said.

"Since then I have been jumping in and out of hostels.

"I was even down in Armagh for a while.

"So many people need help and nobody is doing anything.

"I am living in a tiny fourth floor flat.

"We are waiting for a house.

"It is cramped and there is damp and mould and the kids also have to share a bedroom.

"We have never had a garden so I have to send them to my mum's to play."

Elinor says communicating with the Housing Executive is difficult.

"Every time I phone the Housing Executive I am constantly passed about.

"There is an attitude with them, like they are constantly fighting you.

"They don't want to know."

'Stress is worsening my partner's seizures'

Brendan O'Leary (22) from south Belfast is a full time carer for his partner Fiona.

Fiona has severe epilepsy, regularly experiencing up to 15 seizures a day.

Brendan and Fiona have been living with two young children in 'temporary' two bedroom hostel accommodation for nearly two years.

Before that they lived in a one bedroom private flat for over a year.

The family first presented as homeless in 2011 and have been made more than 20 offers in loyalist areas.

Brendan said: "We weren't really on the Housing Executive's radar until Sean from Participation and the Practice of Rights got involved.

"We have been battling with them to get a three bedroom house long-term because of the kids and Fiona's health needs."

Brendan explained the wait for a home is stressful and has been detrimental to Fiona's health.

"We have been on the list for so long," he said

"Fiona being under stress because of all this brings on more seizures.

"We are being offered alternatives but not a proper solution.

"I wouldn't feel safe in a loyalist area, I would have a sense of fear, so would prefer a mixed area."

'It's damp, cold and it needs condemning'

Karen Donnelly from north Belfast is on the transfer waiting list after her house was severely damaged in November 2011 by flooding from the roof, which subsequently caused damp and mould throughout the property.

The 44-year-old says she missed out on NIHE update schemes for kitchens, heating systems and double glazed windows, later finding out the house was "forgotten about" as it was the only social housing in the street.

She feels her home "should be condemned".

Karen said: "I was told the scheme is finished and there is no money left in the pot. My house is more than 100 years old. It's damp and cold and doesn't meet the basic standards.

"I suffer with fibromyalgia and taking on a battle with the Housing Executive is hard to do. Two of my adult children who have special needs live with me and my grandson who is asthmatic. We shouldn't have to live this way.

"I contacted PPR and found out about the Equality Can't Wait Campaign and now the Housing Executive is sitting up and taking notice. They have carried our some repair work but it's a sticking plaster, the house should be scrapped."

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