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Over 20,000 homeless in Northern Ireland... while 19,000 houses lie empty

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The Foyle constituency had the highest number of people with "Full Duty Applicant" homeless status (PA)

The Foyle constituency had the highest number of people with "Full Duty Applicant" homeless status (PA)

The Foyle constituency had the highest number of people with "Full Duty Applicant" homeless status (PA)

There are more the 20,000 people registered as homeless in Northern Ireland - while just over 19,000 houses lie vacant, new figures have revealed.

The shocking statistics highlight the stark reality of homelessness in the region.

SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said Northern Ireland is in the midst of a housing crisis and "urgent action" must be done to prevent more and more people ending up on the streets.

As of December 2019, the Foyle constituency had the highest levels of homelessness - with 2,526 applicants on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive waiting list holding 'full duty applicant' (FDA) status. This applies to those deemed to be in priority need of housing.

West Belfast and North Belfast also have high levels of homelessness, with 2,373 and 2,352 applicants holding FDA status, respectively.

The problem is less prevalent in Mid Ulster, West Tyrone and Strangford - with 432, 530 and 658 people on the waiting list.

The time for robust and honest conversations about tackling housing shortages has long past Mark H Durkan

While thousands sit on housing waiting lists, a total of 19,111 domestic properties in Northern Ireland are lying empty.

At 3,213, the Belfast council area has the highest number of vacant homes, while the Antrim and Newtownabbey area had the lowest number at 906.

Mark H Durkan said the figures are "startling" and behind the statistics are "individuals, families and many children waiting in anguish".

"The time for robust and honest conversations about tackling housing shortages has long past,” he said.

“My own constituency of Foyle has 2526 people on the waiting list. This is yet another example of the deprivation people in Derry have had to ensure and it is about time we got our fair share and a properly balanced regional economy.”

“Urgent action must be taken before more and more individuals end up on the streets; that is why the SDLP has consistently called for the creation of a comprehensive 20-year Housing Strategy to address issues including supply, affordability, regulation of the Private Rented Sector and homelessness.”

In her first few weeks, the minister has been engaging with officials on housing issues and is committed to ensuring the targeting of resources for those most in need and embedding a human rights based approach in policies and services DfC spokesperson

In March last year, it was revealed that more than 200 people died while on the homeless register in Northern Ireland in preceding 18 months.

This figure includes a 101-year-old woman and 25 others aged 80 and above.

A Department for Communities (DfC) spokesperson said housing is a "key focus" for the Minister Deirdre Hargey and is committed to ensuring that everyone has access to a "good quality, affordable and sustainable home".

"The minister welcomes the priority given to housing in New Decade, New Approach which sets out how the Executive will enhance investment and agree a new target for social and affordable home starts," the spokesperson added.

"In her first few weeks, the minister has been engaging with officials on housing issues and is committed to ensuring the targeting of resources for those most in need and embedding a human rights based approach in policies and services.

"The minister will outline her approach to this key policy issue in the time ahead.”

Under the New Decade, New Approach deal, the Executive has committed to "enhanced investment" in social housing and will examine options to remove historical debt from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) and exclude it from having to pay corporation tax.

Last month, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that more than £1m was spent putting homeless people up in specialist accommodation between April 2015 and April 2018.

During this period, the NIHE made 1,600 placements in what it described as "non-standard" premises, such as hotels and guesthouses, at an average cost of almost £630.

Stormont previously had an Empty Homes Strategy, which ran from 2013 to 2018 and was aimed at bringing vacant homes back into use to help tackle housing waiting lists.

Jim Dennison, chief executive of homeless charity Simon Community NI, said that, while they support reexamining the Empty Homes Strategy, "it must be remembered that it is a solution, not the solution, to the homelessness crisis in Northern Ireland".

"The majority of vacant properties are empty for a reason and that can be anything from undesirable location, isolation to vital services, or the building requiring major renovations," he added.

"Therefore, we must not fall into the belief that the buildings needed to end homelessness already exist."

Belfast Telegraph