Belfast Telegraph

Plight of homeless is simply shameful

Editor's Viewpoint

It is astonishing that in a relatively small province - which traditionally has a strong family ethos - there are some 16,000 people who have nowhere to call home.

They can be seen begging on the streets, heading towards hostels in the evening or sleeping rough. Many are invisible, staying for a few days at a time with friends, so-called sofa-surfing. To them, it may seem incredible that there are 1,000 properties lying vacant which could alleviate the plight of some of the homeless.

These are homes owned by the Housing Executive. Roughly half of them are awaiting new tenants at any one time or are undergoing repairs after previous tenants moved out.

Some can be in difficult to let areas - even the homeless or those on the housing waiting list may be reluctant to move to certain localities.

The other vacant properties are being kept that way for operational reasons.

In fairness to the Housing Executive, these 1,000 properties only represent 1% of its total housing stock and even if all were allocated today it would only make a small dent in the homeless figures, never mind the housing waiting list.

What is evident is that we need more social housing and proper action to tackle the problems of homelessness and those seeking a place of their own. Households come in all shapes and sizes and houses must be built in the same manner. One size does not fit all, especially when under-occupation will hit benefits - the so-called bedroom tax.

Of course, the problem of homelessness or lack of sufficient housing could be tackled more effectively if there was a functioning Assembly and Executive where policies could be devised and ministerial decisions taken as well as the required budgets set to meet the need. The Housing Executive has been one of the success stories of social policy here, but it needs support on the political front to ensure it can challenge, if not fully meet, its priorities.

Other social housing providers, such as housing associations, are in a similar position and pressure should be applied to private developers to build homes for rent, especially where they have obtained for development land previously in public ownership.

The level of housing need in Northern Ireland, given its relatively small population, is shameful and the indications are that it is growing.

We need more social housing but also quicker reallocation of properties when they become vacant. Taking two years to turn around a vacancy is not acceptable.

Belfast Telegraph

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