Belfast Telegraph

Housing is still a priority

By Fra McCann

Sinn Fein believes access to housing is a basic human right and our social housing stock is a public resource.

The Housing Executive was brought about to address the sectarian nature of housing allocations in the six counties and Sinn Fein will not allow the clock to be turned back to a time when social housing was allocated on the basis of creed, not need.

The provision of social housing should be the responsibility of the Department of Social Development and the Housing Executive, which should have responsibility for providing homes for those 22,500 families in housing stress.

This would entail giving the Housing Executive the power and authority to become a house-builder again, reflecting the fact that it had more than doubled our social housing stock before its authority to build was removed.

We need the minister and the Housing Executive to come forward with a house-building programme, setting out how they will address the issue of those living in housing stress.

It particularly needs to state how it will build homes in areas based on greatest need.

In light of the current shortage in social housing, Sinn Fein is calling for a moratorium on the right to buy. To date, more than 140,000 Housing Executive homes have been sold off.

The minister needs not only to pursue a policy that would allow for the Housing Executive to become a house-builder again, but also to remove some of the barriers that impede house-building, such as land banking, planning permissions given but not delivered on and the use of land held by other departments.

Those who cannot be accommodated within the social rented sector must also be safeguarded by regulation and monitoring to secure that the accommodation meets the Decent Homes Standard and that tenants have secure and affordable tenancies. These should be set out in a Tenants and Landlords Charter.

For Sinn Fein, housing is not simply about bricks and mortar; rather it is about building homes and communities, where everyone can live in a comfortable, safe, supportive environment.

* Fra McCann is Sinn Fein MLA for West Belfast

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