Belfast Telegraph

Catholics waiting six months longer to be housed than Protestants in Northern Ireland - report


Shauna McLarnon with her children Jessica, Jenny-Louise, Daniel and Adam
Shauna McLarnon with her children Jessica, Jenny-Louise, Daniel and Adam
Chief executive of the Equality Commission Dr Evelyn Collins
Ahmed Alzian
Hilary moved into her new home in August 2016 and is still excited about it
David McCauley (left) and his partner Vincent Creelan
Warren Henry with his mother Isobel and Bryan Henry with his father Bob
Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Catholics are continuing to experience the longest waiting times for social housing in Northern Ireland, according to a new report by the Equality Commission (ECNI).

The study of housing inequalities in Northern Ireland reveals that Catholics are waiting six months longer than Protestants for social housing.

According to the report, social housing waiting lists for 2004-2009 and for 2013/14 show that Catholics experienced "the longest median waiting times for social housing at the point of allocation in Northern Ireland".

While the wait for social housing increased for all, "more substantive" increases were seen in households identified as Catholic or 'other'.

Between 2004 and 2009, the average waiting list time for Catholic households was eight months, compared with six months for 'other religion' households and six months for Protestants. But by 2013/14, the wait had nearly doubled for Catholics to 15 months, while 'other religion' households had more than doubled to 13 months. The wait for Protestants had increased by a third to nine months.

The longest wait for Catholics was in west Belfast (28 months) followed by 27 months in south Belfast, 22 months in Ballymena and 15 in east Belfast.

The ECNI statement also warns of limited access to "appropriate accommodation for Irish travellers" and that ethnic minority and migrant homes "may be vulnerable to racial attacks" with an increase in criminal damage crimes with a racist motivation between 2013/14 and 2015/16.

The Statement On Key Inequalities In Housing And Communities In Northern Ireland, published today, identifies inequalities suffered by the disabled, such as the fact that "those with a learning disability are not always afforded an opportunity to live independently". It says there is evidence of housing inequality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Equality Commission chief executive Dr Evelyn Collins said that despite progress there is "compelling evidence" that work needs to be done to address inequalities.

She said: "Ensuring that everyone has access to a sustainable, secure home and enjoys the right to independent living; that the specific housing needs of particular equality groups are addressed; and the development of shared, safe communities are essential building blocks to a successful, flourishing Northern Ireland. A revised Programme for Government should provide an opportunity to develop actions to address inequalities."

Land & Property Service data shows there are 18,553 empty residential properties across Northern Ireland. A Department for Communities spokeswoman said reasons could include the house being for sale, repossession, or inability to contact a derelict property's owner.

An NIHE spokesman said that, as of March 31, 2017, there were 16,743 Catholics (44.5%) and 12,509 Protestants (33.3%) on its housing wait list.

"In our experience, members of the Catholic community tend to apply for social housing in high demand areas with low turnover and limited opportunities for further development," she said. "There are 892 Housing Executive properties empty currently; 540 of these are properties undergoing repairs or being used for decanting. A further 128 are awaiting allocation and 161 are difficult to let."

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Shauna McLarnon

'There is limited space in a flat ... we're surviving not living'

Shauna McLarnon is a young Catholic mother from north Belfast with four children, living four storeys up in a two bedroom flat.

She describes her situation as "surviving, not living."

She is hoping for a house in Ligoniel, which would let her be nearer to her family for a support network and the provision of childcare.

She has been on a housing list for almost two-and-a-half years. She meets many of the criteria but does not have the number of points she would most likely need to qualify for a house in Ligoniel.

"I share a bedroom with Jenny-Louise, who's 10 months old," she says.

"The other three children Daniel (7), Adam (4) and Jessica (3) share the other bedroom.

"There is extremely limited space in the flat for all that comes with having a young family. There is no access to a garden nor to any place for the children to play. Simple things, like trying to get the kids up and down to the flat, are terrible.

"My son Adam has recently been diagnosed with autism and needs his own space, a room of his own."

Ahmed Alzian

'I was so frightened and homeless'

Ahmed Alzian left his native Sudan for a new start in Northern Ireland in 2013. At first, his relocation started off well. He made new friends and attended English lessons.

In October 2015, Ahmed returned to find two men robbing and ransacking his Belfast home.

The culprits fled, and Ahmed was shocked at the devastation.

"They had smashed up my home and stolen everything they could," he said.

The men returned moments later and attacked both Ahmed and his friend with metal bars.

The attack was reported to the PSNI, but Ahmed no longer felt safe living there.

"I had to pack up and leave," he said. "I truly believe that these people targeted me and my home because of racism.

"They left me frightened and homeless because of my race, I can think of no other reason. "

Following the incident Ahmed moved to hostel accommodation and was homeless until April 2016. Despite the incident, he has stayed in Belfast. He is happy in a new home and now is working full time at a job he likes.

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Hilary moved into her new home in August 2016 and is still excited about it

‘Technology has given me freedom’

Hilary moved into her new home in August 2016 and is still excited about it.

She had been unable to live independently after a stroke, and was staying in Ballymacoss Residential Home for more than 20 years.

“It’s just brilliant,” she said of her apartment in the purpose-built Lisburn facility, which was developed by the Cedar Foundation in partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Triangle Housing Association.

Now supported to live in a self-contained one-bedroom apartment, Hilary spoke passionately about being able to decide on her own colour schemes, picking her own pictures and cushions, and matching kitchen utensils, things  that many of us take for granted — but which Hilary had never been in a position to do before.

The apartment which Hilary now calls home has been designed to meet her every need. It incorporates technology to ensure that her independence isn’t compromised and there are easily-accessible buzzers and buttons to open and close doors and blinds.

With modern technology Hilary can control almost everything.

“I thought I’d never have a place like this to call my own — it’s just great,” she said.

David McCauley (left) and his partner Vincent Creelan

‘They threw everything they could get their hands on at us’

The idea that your home could be attacked because of your sexuality seems ludicrous — but for Vincent Creelan and David McCauley it became a grim reality. Their home was attacked on various occasions from August 2007 until around July 2008.

The couple, who are in a civil partnership, have a comfortable home in a good location with friendly neighbours.  Vincent retired from the police 11 years ago while David runs an IT company.

When the attacks became regular and more frequent, they installed CCTV. It gradually became clear to them that this harassment was being done by a small group of local youths.

“They threw everything they could get their hands on at the house; from stones and eggs to pieces of masonry. The attacks were random but sustained over a long period of time,” Vincent said.

“David and I were living in fear in our own home; a place where we should be able to relax and be safe — that is a terrible feeling.”

All incidents were reported to police, but the couple felt the investigation of what were homophobic hate crimes fell short of PSNI standards.

Vincent said: “ I do not believe that we received the support and investigation that our complaints should have generated.”

The couple, supported by the Equality Commission, took a discrimination case against the PSNI, alleging that failure to investigate their complaints was because of their sexual orientation. The PSNI settled the case without admission of liability.

 “It is frustrating that in this day and age that we were considered a target because we are a same-sex couple,” David said.

“We decided to stay in our home, despite everything. What we want most is to live in peace.”

Warren Henry with his mother Isobel and Bryan Henry with his father Bob

'This home allows our sons to live together... it's marvellous'

This is how Isobel and Bob Henry, who are in their 70s, describe their sons' new home.

Both of their adult sons, Bryan (40) and Warren (38), are non-verbal and have a learning disability and complex needs which require 24-hour care. The brothers recently moved into a new bungalow near Omagh supported by Mencap after 23 years apart. Before this, Warren lived at home with their parents while Bryan lived in a nursing home 33 miles away.

There was previously no housing solution available to allow them to live together.

They share their new property with two other adults with a learning disability, and have carers to look after them at all times.

Mencap's Personal Support and Housing Service in Northern Ireland developed the supported living solution for the Henry family, and it believes people with a learning disability should have a real choice about where they live and who they live with, so housing is tailored to meet an individual's needs and aspirations.

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