More than 40,000 social homes in Northern Ireland could fall into disrepair
A lack of funding could see the start of the decommissioning of half of Northern Ireland's 86,500 social homes within two years, according to a letter written by a top-ranking civil servant.
Investigative website The Detail reports the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is preparing for "the longer-term decommissioning" of more than 43,000 properties from the start of next year if they are unable to cover a budgetary shortfall of £140m.
Permanent secretary of the Department for Communities Leo O'Reilly has outlined his fears for the decommissioning in a letter to DUP MLA Mervyn Storey.
The letter states the move will allow the Housing Executive to prioritise the maintenance of its remaining homes - but that such a move would place additional pressure on waitings lists and could increase homelessness.
As of March, there were 36,198 applicants on a waiting list for a home in Northern Ireland, with 24,148 being considered priority and 11,877 deemed to be homeless.
The letter from Mr O'Reilly also outlined a number of possible solutions, although these may be hamstrung by the absence of an Assembly.
“The Housing Executive will start planning for this from the start of 2019," Mr O'Reilly writes in the letter.
"It will be a plan involving difficult decisions from the board of the Housing Executive as it seeks to prioritise the maintenance of part of its stock while planning for the longer-term decommissioning of the rest of its stock.”
A spokesman for the Housing Executive told The Detail that withdrawing financial support for housing was a "worst case scenario", and options being explored would include the sale of homes to the private sector, the transfer to housing associations, or the demolition and development of the homes.
“The Housing Executive, as would others, has also major concerns about the significant loss of stock and the detrimental impact on meeting increasing social housing need in Northern Ireland,” the spokesman added.
Dessie Donnelly, from the human rights group Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), said: “We are concerned that this political choice to ‘decommission’ public housing stock could lead to an explosion of housing waiting lists and an overall increase in homelessness.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital