The social housing crisis in Northern Ireland is nothing new, but how do we spur those responsible for tackling it into taking appropriate action?
Our story today that 3,000 children in the province have no permanent home should surely generate some political demands for action.
It is shameful that a province less than one hour’s flight from London, capital of one of the world’s largest economies, should be offering so many young people and their families such a Dickensian response to what is after all a basic human right — the right to a place to call home.
Instead, those families are shuffled around temporary accommodation which in many instances fall well short of a welcoming place to live.
So how has Northern Ireland fallen into this housing crisis?
In 1971 the NI Housing Executive was formed as a central comprehensive housing body, running both the selection of tenants and the provision of housing.
It was faced with horrendous housing conditions in many areas amid some of the bloodiest conflict experienced in Europe at that time.
The Housing Executive performed a herculean task replacing slums with modern housing in many areas but then the usual ennui set in. Housing was deprived of consistent financial and political support and the situation was further exacerbated in 1996 when a decision was taken to curtail the Executive’s ability to borrow money and build more homes.
The lack of finance resulted in the existing housing stock deteriorating and the housing associations which were established to take over social house building were unable to increase the supply of new homes on the scale required to meet the ever-rising homelessness tide.
All this was thrown into even more stark focus with the coronavirus pandemic which saw even more people declaring themselves homeless.
It is clear that there needs to be a fresh determination to tackle the problem. That includes creating a centralised housing strategy which the Executive and housing associations all buy into and which has ring-fenced funding.
Most of all it needs the determination of the relevant ministers and the Executive to tackle the problem.
Housing offers more than simply a roof over a family’s heads. It is important in providing mental and physical well-being and having 3,000 children and their families looking for a permanent home is a shameful stain on the province’s reputation.