MLAs urge new approach after Stormont strategy to address situation is branded a failure
Almost 22,000 homes here are lying empty while more than 44,000 people are on the waiting list, according to new figures.
It signals a serious housing crisis, with demand far outstripping supply.
The Housing Executive revealed there are 44,426 people on the waiting list, with around half of those deemed homeless.
The council areas with the highest number of housing applicants are Belfast (11,858) and Derry City and Strabane (5,557).
New figures from Stormont’s Department of Finance show there are 21,952 domestic properties lying vacant.
This figure has remained largely unchanged in the last five years.
The highest number of empty homes are in Fermanagh and South Tyrone (2,148), followed by West Tyrone (1,710), and Newry and Armagh (1,659).
Stormont had an Empty Homes Strategy that ran from 2013 to 2018 and was aimed at bringing vacant homes back into use to help tackle the waiting list.
However, given the number of empty homes has remained largely stagnant and the waiting list is steadily climbing, it seems to have had little effect.
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said it is “particularly galling” so many homes are left unoccupied while tens of thousands of people are on the waiting list for social housing.
“The number of empty homes has remained around the same level for the last five years and it’s time we explored what can be done to make use of these properties, particularly given the staggering housing need,” he said.
“Many families are suffering because of the lack of social and affordable housing, with rents increasing all the time.
“People are forced to live with relatives in cramped conditions and I regularly hear of people sleeping on the sofa of a friend or family member while they wait to secure a home.
“It’s incredibly hard for these people to accept that thousands of homes are lying vacant and nothing is being done about it.
“Given the large number of properties remaining vacant, it appears the Executive’s previous Empty Homes Strategy has been a failure.
“I would call on Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to engage with her Executive colleagues, including Finance Minister Conor Murphy, to come up with a proper strategy to reduce the number of homes lying empty and bring these properties back into public use.”
UUP MLA Andy Allen said: “Daily my constituency office team and I work with many desperate to secure a home for them and their families who have lost faith in our current housing system.
“The Department for Communities Empty Homes Strategy and action plan 2013-18 stated that it enabled valuable and necessary work to be undertaken but has had limited success in bringing empty homes back into use.
“At the current rate of housing build delivery, we are never going to address the housing crisis.
“Therefore, it is of vital importance that every possible step is taken to utilise learning from work such as the Empty Homes Strategy to deliver a blend of housing options, including increasing our social housing build target significantly.”