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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Homelessness and housing supply in Northern Ireland

Following the publication of the latest NI Housing Bulletin , Nicola McCrudden, Housing Rights Service Policy Manager, has digested the year end statistics and summarises her thoughts on the issue of supply and demand.

Homelessness is not just a bricks and mortar issue. I have heard this so many times and, whilst I totally agree that having a roof over your head isn’t the answer to everything, nonetheless it is a very good starting point.

Recent statistics show that the number of households presenting as homeless to the Housing Executive in 2013/14 was 18,862 - a slight 2.5% decrease on the previous year. Just over half were accepted as statutorily homeless. The most common reasons for presenting as homeless were:

  • sharing breakdown/family dispute (3,549),
  • accommodation not reasonable (3,173) and
  • loss of rented accommodation (2,568)– mainly private rented.

These have remained unchanged in recent years. However, there are notable percentage increases in the numbers presenting as homeless due to intimidation (up 14%) and leaving hospital/prison/other institution (up 8%).

In terms of household composition, the largest number of homeless presenters were single males (6,778), followed by families (5,867) and single females (3,378).  There were also significant numbers of pensioner households (1,968) which is attributed to high numbers living in unsuitable housing and therefore “deemed” homeless.

Of course, demand for social housing doesn't just come from homeless people. The most recent statistics show there are over 41,000 households on the housing waiting list with growing numbers in housing stress (22,000). The 2013/14 statistics due to be released this autumn will allow us to see if this picture has changed. However, what is undeniable is that demand for social housing in Northern Ireland is considerable. So how well is that demand being met?

Put simply, the Social Housing Development Programme is failing to keep pace with rising need and this trend has continued over several years. It is estimated that 1,200 additional social units are required annually. The Housing Executive reckons a further 800 homes per annum are needed to make up for the shortfall in previous years. Last year housing associations were responsible for 1,082 new home starts in 2013/14 which is around 20% of the total number of new starts that year. This figure is just slightly under the previous year’s total, but almost half of the number of housing association new starts in the peak year of 2010/11. 

Planning constraints and difficulties in securing land in appropriate locations are cited as the main barriers to unblocking social housing supply. Meanwhile, the wider housing and construction sectors are still recovering from the property downturn. Proposals for developer contributions, whilst very welcome, will not yield a great return for social housing in the immediate term.

On a more positive note social housing completions are up. Last year housing associations completed 1,735 social housing units - 56% more than the previous year and by far the largest number of completions in a decade. This is very encouraging and demonstrates what is achievable.

With the squeeze on social housing there is a lot of demand for the private rented sector. While most tenants are happy with their landlords, their tenancy and property conditions, there is a flip side. For most of our clients the most common housing asks are

a) no requirement to pay money up front
b) reasonable rents and
c) knowing they have security and not being asked to move out at the drop of a hat!

Unfortunately these can’t be guaranteed in the private rented sector. So until then – we will need a good supply of social rented housing.

Tagged In

Social Tenancies, Private Tenancies, Policy, Homelessness
This article was written on 30 July 2014. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.