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Housing and homelessness sector leaders outline ‘grave concerns’ at social housing new starts figure for 2024/5

The leaders of four leading homelessness and housing sector representatives have written to the First and Deputy First Ministers outlining their ‘grave concerns’ at the news that the Department for Communities will only be able to fund up to 400 new starts in 2024/5.

The letter outlines that the figure for new starts is “extremely low” when viewed in the context of the number of new starts over the last several years. The last four years have seen 2,403, 1,713, 1,956 and 1,506 new social homes started in Northern Ireland. If this budget is the final allocation of money for new starts, 1,106 fewer social homes will be started in 2024/5 compared to 2023/4, a huge fall of 73.4%. This also assumes that 400 homes can be started with the funding available.

Departmental officials made clear at the Committee that the sharp drop in the number of social homes which can be started is a direct result of the 38.2% cut in the capital funding available for the Department for Communities this year. The letter goes on to outline some of the major social and economic consequences which will flow from the decision of the NI Executive to impose such a deep cut on to the Department for Communities capital budget in 2024/5.

The four representatives finish by calling on the Executive to urgently reconsider the capital budget for 2024/5 considering the ongoing housing and homelessness crisis this society is facing. You can read a copy of the full letter here.

Seamus Leheny, CEO of NIFHA, said:

“In reality the housing waiting list and the social housing budget are going in different directions, at a rapid pace. While figures showed an 18% increase in the number of applicants on the waiting list over the last ten years, the budget available for new build social housing is shrinking and today’s decision will lead to at least a 73% reduction in the number of new build homes compared to last year.

If this is not addressed then the Assembly is effectively waving a white flag and accepting that we cannot realistically provide housing for our citizens in need. In the first quarter of this year alone more than 850 applicants presented as being in housing need; but as things stand we will be building less than half that number of homes over a whole year.”

Nicola McCrudden, CEO of Homeless Connect, said:

“It is very difficult to see how the NI Executive can turn the curve on homelessness with such a low number of social housing new starts in 2024/5. Constraining housing supply through under investment in social housing will only pile more pressure on an already fragile housing system.

It will be the most deprived households in this society who will pay the price if additional resources are not found to invest in the social housing development programme.”

Kate McCauley, CEO of Housing Rights, said:

“The news that the Department for Communities’ capital allocation for 2024/25 will only allow for a maximum of 400 new build social home starts in Northern Ireland is a devastating blow for people waiting to access safe and affordable homes.

Northern Ireland is in a housing crisis. There is a well-documented shortage of temporary accommodation and there continues to be serious pressure on people renting privately to afford their homes as they face unprecedented and rapid rent price rises. Lack of housing supply is at the heart of these issues.

To see new build starts reduced to a maximum of 400 is deeply concerning. This drastic cut will mean households experiencing homelessness will wait even longer for a home- deepening our housing crisis.”

Justin Cartwright, National Director of CIH Northern Ireland, said:

“The cut to social housing new starts is not just a blow to those currently waiting for a home, but a missed opportunity for the future of our economy and construction sector. The pressure on waiting lists is undeniable and we must also consider the long-term impact.

By significantly reducing new builds, we risk losing skilled workers from the housing sector. These are the very professionals who will be needed to ramp up construction again in the coming years. A short-term saving risks creating a long-term problem.”