Peter Robinson's response to the intimidation of a Nigerian man "beggars belief", an MLA has said.
Protesters placed 'Locals only' banners outside an east Belfast bungalow after learning it was about to be occupied by a Nigerian.
The banners, which read 'Local houses 4 local people' were placed outside the bungalow at Glenuce Drive near the City Airport earlier this week. They were removed by the PSNI yesterday morning.
Michael Abiona, a 34-year-old charity worker who has lived in Belfast for four years, described the protest as "shameful".
"It is not about me being elderly or local – it is about intimidation and discrimination," he said.
But First Minister Mr Robinson said he wasn't convinced the protest was racist or intimidatory.
"In this particular case very clearly local people have a level of concern with Housing Executive allocations and those are matters that need to be dealt with by the Housing Executive, indeed even looked at in terms of the Housing Executive allocation scheme."
The DUP leader said there was no indication that the protesters intended to intimidate Mr Abiona.
"You might have had exactly the same reaction if it was somebody from up country moving into an area where local people aren't able to get houses in the locality that they have been brought up in," he said.
"There are people who have been brought up and raised and lived in housing estates all of their lives. Their children grow up in that area and they can't get them houses in that area, so there is that resentment that people from outside their local area are getting houses and that they can't get their children housed close to them."
SDLP MLA Alex Attwood said the comments raised questions about Mr Robinson's judgment.
"In respect to this incident he claims that anybody from 'up country' could have received the same treatment. In effect, he is saying that an outsider to this community could anticipate this sort of response if they sought to live in that community.
"Peter Robinson's comments again confirm his failure of judgment, bad thinking and wrong attitude. This was a time to be unambiguous in response to those who displayed intolerance.
"Peter Robinson has again badly failed this test."
Yesterday a group of 10 women remained outside the bungalow.
They said their complaints had nothing to do with Mr Abiona or the colour of his skin, and they were unhappy at politicians who have condemned the incident as racist. However, one of the women accepted their choice of words on the banner was wrong.
"It should have been worded differently – local houses for pensioners or disabled people or something," she said.
"We have no issue with race or colour – but that's the way it looks. It is a misunderstanding and it has been misrepresented.
"We have been slandered, it is a local issue and nothing at all to do with race or colour."
However, Mr Abiona, who suffers from osteoarthritis and who has lived in Belfast since 2010, said he was too afraid to move in.
Alliance MP Naomi Long said the banners were "blatantly racist".
"This sort of behaviour has no place in our community," she said.
The Housing Executive, which allocates properties on a points system based on need, said it was "actively working with local representatives and agencies to try to resolve the issue".
The Housing Executive uses a points system to assess people on its waiting list, with four categories used to determine need. These are:
- Insecurity of tenure, such as people who are homeless or at risk of losing their home.
- Intimidation or people who experience hostility because of disability or sexual orientation,
- Health and social well-being.
- Housing conditions.
Properties are normally allocated to the applicant with the highest points.