The Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations has challenged the Secretary of State to recognise the importance of social housing provision by providing an increase to the Department for Communities budget to support social housing new build and Supporting People programmes.
Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA), which represents the 20 housing associations who manage more than 57,000 homes across Northern Ireland, has made the call ahead of its annual conference, which starts today. In 2022/23 housing associations exceeded the targets set for both new build completions and new-starts, but there is now concern that budget cuts could impact upon the targets for this year.
In a letter to Chris Heaton Harris MP, NIFHA Chief Executive, Seamus Leheny, set out the need for further investment in housing to address the rising housing waiting lists. To meet the 2,200 new homes required each year, there will be need for significant additional financial investment from the Department for Communities, which would be matched by the housing associations through private finance.
The housing sector is also calling for additional support for the Supporting People budget, a programme which supports more than 19,000 to live independently.
Earlier this month NIFHA highlighted the issue at the NI Assembly All Party Group on Housing, and the call to the Secretary for State for further support has been endorsed by Sinn Fein, DUP, Alliance Party, UUP and the SDLP.
The NIFHA Annual Conference will see housing professionals from across the sector come together to hear a range of speakers on the key issues facing the sector, and the budget is expected to be a key topic of discussion.
Seamus Leheny said “We are lurching slowly and surely toward a crisis in housing in Northern Ireland, with an ever increasing waiting list, and growing numbers of people living in housing stress. It is quite clear that we need to be building more homes. Last year housing associations exceeded the targets set by the Department for Communities, but even that is not enough. To deliver 2,200 new homes each year, we will need at least a 10% rise in the social housing development budget, and that is before we consider inflation.
“We know the budgetary pressures faced, but there is an urgent need to take some action on housing. There is a real concern within the social housing sector that any reduction in the Social Housing Development Programme budget will have a serious, detrimental long term impact on thousands of families on waiting lists and wider society. The Housing Associations will match any public funding allocated to housing so the Government is getting financial value as well as addressing a serious policy need. We are acting now and no one can say in the future that we didn’t know how serious our housing situation is right now.
“We also want to see Supporting People funding increased. For almost 15 years his budget was left static, which was effectively a cut when inflation was considered. Recent additional support is welcome, but the budget does not reflect the demand and impact the service can have. What Supporting People does is provide additional support to individuals to live independently and play a wider role in the community. Without it there would undoubtedly be further pressure put on the health service and other care services.
Seamus added “Our central point to the Secretary of State is that investing in housing, be it new build or supporting services, has a much wider net gain for society and the longer term budgets. The Department for Communities faces an unenviable task of trying to deliver a range of services, including social housing, and only the Secretary of State has the ability to increase the budget to allow our sector to keep building and supporting people. There is wide support for this from the political parties and the sector, and we hope that the Secretary of State does the right thing and shows his support for housing.”