Catholics frozen out by plans that focus on mixed housing: report
A new report accuses the Housing Executive and Stormont of ignoring the needs of north Belfast Catholics in order to ensure new housing developments have a mixed intake.
The 'Equality Can Wait' report, launched today, says 76% of people in housing stress in north Belfast are Catholics and only 22% Protestants.
Many Catholics live in areas like the Carlisle high rise development at the bottom of the New Lodge Road.
"There are still many families living high in these tower blocks," said Kate Ward, of Participation and the Practice of Rights group (PPR), which commissioned the study.
Appealing to Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland (right) to address the issue, she added: "The festering sore of religious inequality in housing must become a priority for the Minister for Social Development, and more widely the Northern Ireland Executive."
The upper storeys of tower blocks are more suitable for couples because of lack of access to play areas, so families there get extra waiting list points.
If housing is allocated purely on need, these people would have a high priority in any new development.
But Ms Ward said that is changing. She added: "We have unearthed material showing the Housing Executive is looking at moving away from allocation of social housing purely based on need. It shows they are going to consider how social housing can be used to ensure a shared future and promoting concepts as vague as social mobility."
She cited the Girdwood development as one example of efforts to engineer a housing mix.
The alternative, she said, was to allocate on need, which would result in more Catholics moving in. And she pointed to the establishment of a Common Landlord Area (a term for housing districts) in central Belfast. Ms Ward added: "If city centre housing was allocated on the current basis, then it would be mainly Catholics who would get the properties."
A Housing Executive consultative document showed that 276 new houses would then go to Catholics and 144 to Protestants. Instead, the rules may be changed so that only 53% are likely to go to Catholics.
The NIHE document argued: "In equality terminology, this would represent an adverse affect on Catholics, but only those in the CLAs.
"This would be mitigated by the fact that so many more people, including Catholics, would benefit from the new city centre choice."
However, Ms Ward pointed out that there was a legal obligation to combat inequality in housing allocation.
Thomas Hammarberg, a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights until last year, visited north Belfast and contributed to the report.
He wrote: "The people with responsibility for implementing and upholding human rights and equality have to be held accountable."
Housing has always been a hot political topic in Belfast.
Many predominantly Catholic areas, such as the New Lodge, suffer overcrowding, and there is more housing free in traditionally Protestant areas.
However, there has been resistance to moving Catholics into traditionally Protestant areas, which might often be across peace lines.
During the Troubles, north Belfast suffered more sectarian murders than any other area and it still remains deeply divided.
Planners say they need to build a careful mix into new developments to prevent segregated areas growing up.