As Minister for Social Development, I will be asking people across Northern Ireland to share their views on Northern Ireland’s first housing strategy.
‘Facing the Future: Housing strategy for Northern Ireland’ sets out my vision for housing over the next five years. It is a vision focused on ensuring access to good quality housing at a reasonable cost.
It is also a vision that recognises the significant role housing could play in helping support and sustain economic recovery, create employment and help to regenerate some of our most deprived and neglected communities.
The Regional Development Strategy 2035 indicates a need for 11,000 new housing units per year.
Over the last few years, the supply of new homes has hovered around 7,000 units a year.
Addressing this shortfall would not only help to secure long-term stability in the housing market, but also create much needed jobs and aid economic recovery.
There is a need for leadership, commitment and partnership to deliver real and lasting change and achieve this stretching goal.
There is no sign that the high demand for social housing will reduce in the near future.
We must face the realities of the current economic environment and the pressure on budgets across government. And we must prepare for the challenges ahead in reforming the wider welfare system.
We need to create the right conditions to grow a sustainable housing market, provide support for individuals and families and get the structures in place that will deliver for future generations.
It is time to consider how we allocate social housing, improve the way we support people to live independently and do more to prevent homelessness.
It is time to consider how land and stock already in public ownership is being used to meet housing need effectively, while ensuring the private rented sector offers a viable alternative for more households.
It is time to consider what role housing can play in driving regeneration, developing new ways of helping people to re-shape their communities to make them a place where people want to live again.
I will also soon announce a way forward on the fundamental review of the NI Housing Executive and its role in developing housing.
As Minister for Social Development, I will continue to do what I can to reduce disadvantage and protect local communities.
Much has been said in recent days about how welfare reform will affect the lives of many people here.
Dealing with the impacts of housing benefit reform requires proper consideration of the types of actions which will make a difference to people’s lives.
Therefore, I will be listening carefully to what people are saying on the ground and looking to put in place practical measures to support those impacted by the changes.
Building social homes meets housing need, sustains the construction industry and has a multiplier effect on the general economy.
I aim to maximise the number of new social homes we can bring forward within the budgets available.
For example, last year Housing Associations used public funds to leverage in private finance, to deliver over 2,000 social and affordable homes and create almost 3,000 jobs — far more than would have been achieved by public funding alone.
Public spending on housing will create jobs, training and apprenticeships for our young people, all of which will help ensure we develop our skills base for the longer term.
I want to get Northern Ireland building, working and living in housing that best meets its needs, is affordable and makes best use of the budgets and assets at our disposal.
It is now over to the people of Northern Ireland as we face the future together.
Nelson McCausland, MLA, is Minister for Social Development