The Housing Executive has defended its record in north Belfast, saying it has invested £310m in the area over the past decade.
It has also announced that it plans to begin major improvements to the Seven Towers flats running to £1m per block.
The Housing Executive was responding to remarks by human rights activist Inez McCormack, who accused it of “failing to address housing need in north Belfast”.
Ms McCormack, chair of the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) Project, hosted an international panel of experts who visited the New Lodge area for an inquiry into the link between poor housing and health recently.
The inquiry heard from experts in health, urban geography and architecture as well as residents of the Seven Towers flats and human rights experts Leticia Osorio, from Brazil, and Ann Blyberg, from the US.
Among the Seven Towers residents campaigning for a greater say in housing issues is Angie McManus, who said: “While our previous Evidence Hearings and work brought about some positive changes for residents in the Towers — such as fixing the sewage system, cleaning up pigeon waste and the re-housing of most families — many issues remain unchanged. There is still damp, mould, heating problems and security issues.”
She alleged that residents received “inadequate services” from the Housing Executive and the Department of Social Development.
“They tell us that the damp is a condensation problem — in other words, it’s not their fault, it’s ours,” she said. “In actual fact, structural issues are to blame: draughty doors and windows, inefficient heating, poor ventilation. These are all issues that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive can and must do something about.”
She added: “There’s also the much bigger question of the future of the Towers themselves. One thing is for certain — residents’ voices and their health and well-being must be at the centre of any decisions about the future of the Towers. This hasn’t been the case to date — real consultation is thin on the ground.”
The People’s Inquiry comes over one year after a committee at the United Nations formally expressed concern about religious inequality on the social housing waiting list in north Belfast.
Ms McCormack said: “One year |on and the UN Committee’s concerns about housing inequality ... have still not been addressed. In fact, recent policies introduced by both the Housing Executive and the Department of Social Development seem to indicate a refusal to even recognise the problem. In doing so, they are putting the Government and the minister in breach of their international and national obligations.
A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said they disagreed with Inez McCormack’s remarks. “Over the past number of years we have engaged with PPR and the residents of the Seven Towers and we would point out that our work with them has produced some very positive results for the area.
“We will continue to work with the group as we do will tenants and residents groups.
“Next year we plan to start major external improvements to the flats at a cost of £1million per block.
“The Housing Executive has acknowledged problems specific to North Belfast and through our North Belfast Strategy we invested £310m in the area of the past decade. During this time one in five new social homes in Northern Ireland has been built in North Belfast.”