AT the outset of the annual round of consultations with local councils, the NI Housing Executive has outlined the current challenges.
Gerry Flynn, NIHE Director of Housing and Regeneration, speaking at a presentation at Down District Council, said: “With so much of the focus this year being on proposed changes as to how social housing is to be delivered in the future it is easy to forget that the day to day provision of housing services continued as usual.
* 352,957 individuals visited our local offices.
* 472,990 repair requests were dealt with.
* 41,356 applicants on our waiting list.
* £634 million administered through Housing benefit.
“It was encouraging to note that during the year 1,379 much needed new social homes were started. There were also 5,449 kitchen replacements, 4,054 heating installations and external maintenance work to another 8,429 of our own stock. The Minister had made the provision of double glazing a priority and in the last financial year we made significant progress by upgrading over 8,856 homes.
“The supporting people budget of over £66 million provided funding to over 800 housing support schemes which in turn gave essential support to some 24,000 of the most vulnerable people in Northern Ireland.
“During the year the number of households accepted as homeless rose to 9,878. The new homeless strategy is now operational and it has an overarching aim to eliminate long term homelessness and rough sleeping by 2020.
“In January the Minister for Social Development outlined proposals for the reform of social housing, to include the restructure of the Housing Executive.” Key points in the proposals are:
* DSD responsibility for overall strategy, regulation and inspection;
* The creation of a Northern Ireland regional housing body to deliver housing services;
* The transfer of the landlord function from the public sector to allow access to private funding;
* The establishment of an independent Social Housing Rent Panel.
Mr Flynn added: “There is broad support for the principle of separating landlord and regional housing service and this process of change will be subject to extensive consultation. The Housing Executive therefore needs to prepare for change by putting in place new structures which will facilitate the new arrangements when they are agreed.
“Already three new regions have been formed, North, South and Belfast. These regions have been split into areas which in turn maintain active links to existing council areas. These local offices have always been central to the Housing Executive’s approach to providing a quality customer service.
“The welfare reform programme will directly affect many people. With around 70% of our tenants on benefits, there clearly will be implications which will require careful monitoring. With approximately 27,000 Housing Executive properties under occupied many tenants are concerned about the future and the delivery of suitable housing.
“The coming changes are not yet clear and not all details of how they will be implemented are known. However, the impact will be significant for large numbers of low-income individuals in Northern Ireland and indeed for the Housing Executive as it adapts to the new regulations.
“The Housing Executive is looking at a range of issues including stock management, changes to allocations, provision of smaller units of new build, and the provision of advice and support. We will be keeping these matters under close scrutiny during the coming year.”
Referring to the Housing Executive’s investment in Down in 2012/13, Loma Wilson, the South Down Area Manager said:
“Last year the Housing Executive:
* Spent almost £3.4 million on improving and maintaining Housing Executive homes in 2012/13;
* Invested £1.9 million to assist vulnerable people through the Supporting People programme.
* Provided £1.5 million for grant aid to improve housing conditions in the private sector;
* Invested £280,000 on adapting Housing Executive homes in this area having commenced adaptations to 57 tenants’ homes;
* Provided 3236 private sector tenants with Housing Benefit assistance, an increase of 48% from 2009;
* Worked with community groups and other sectors to encourage safer, settled and inclusive communities.
Setting out the Housing Executive’s agenda in Down for the 2013/2014 year when the investment will be £7.5 million, Loma Wilson added:
“The housing waiting list for Down has increased from 734 applicants in housing stress at March 2012 to 899 at December 2012. Single households continue to dominate the waiting list.”
“During 2012 we allocated 198 Housing Executive homes to waiting list applicants.”
New social housing
“Last year two schemes for 32 units of accommodation were completed in Raholp and Downpatrick. At the end of March 2013, there were seven schemes for 178 homes on site in Newcastle, Downpatrick and Ballynahinch.
The Social Housing Development Programme for 2013/16 proposes 15 schemes for 182 units of accommodation in Killyleagh, Crossgar, Downpatrick, Ballynahinch, Ardglass, Saintfield, Castlewellan, Newcastle and Ballyhornan.
“The number of homeless applicants awarded full duty status increased from 204 in 2011/12 to 259 in 2012/13. The Housing Executive will continue to work hard to provide services to support those faced with homelessness. The Homelessness Strategy 2012-2017 aims to eliminate long term homelessness and rough sleeping across Northern Ireland by 2020.”
Supporting people to live independently
“This year the Housing Executive will invest £2.3m to help the most vulnerable people in Down to continue to live independently. This is especially important for older people and people with disabilities. During 2012/13 we funded 27 sheltered and supported housing accommodation based schemes and two floating support schemes.”
Maintaining Housing Executive homes
“In addition to the day to day maintenance services we will carry out a planned maintenance programme. This year’s programme includes new heating systems for 130 homes and double glazing for 614 homes and External Maintenance to 109 homes.”
Warm Homes Scheme
“In Down last year 350 private sector homes were insulated, 5 had heating installed, 13 had both insulation and heating installed and a further 31 had internal dry lining insulation through the Warm Homes Scheme.”
Grants for private homes
“We have also allocated £935,000 for private sector grant work for this area.”
Building stronger communities
“The Housing Community Network, local community and residents groups are doing valuable work reviewing and improving housing services for local people. Members of staff are working diligently with residents and other agencies to promote and encourage safer, settled and inclusive housing areas within Down. The BRIC Programme and Shared Communities Programme will remain important contributors for this range of work.”
Improving public housing service
“Our local staff continue to provide a dedicated housing service to the Down Council Area. District Office staff work alongside the Customer Services Unit, Accounts and Housing Benefit Units within the new South Down Area & South Region.”
Loma Wilson concluded: “I would like to extend my thanks to the Councillors and Officers of Down for their support over the past year. Housing Executive staff in the District, Area and Region look forward to continuing to work with the council on issues of mutual interest in the coming year.”
The District Housing Plan reports Housing Executive performance for 2012/2013 and the programmes planned for each council area for 2013/2014.
The Housing Executive meets each of the 26 councils annually to present their plans.
At the end of the presentations, Councillors raised a number of issues around housing allocation,housing benefit, home repairs, and discussed some of the implications of the changes in the welfare system regarding the ‘bedroom tax’ and its impacts.