Building Northern Ireland’s future

Headshot Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA), sets out how working together we can ensure everyone has access to a decent and affordable home.

22,000 households are in housing stress. Only around 7,000 of the 11,000 homes needed annually are being built. And in spite of record falls in house prices, 36 per cent of young adults in Northern Ireland are still having to live with their parents.

During these tough times, housing associations are increasing delivery of much-needed homes. Around 1,300 new social homes will be started this year, with over 1,000 first-time buyers helped in to home ownership through Co-Ownership. For 2014/2015 the target for new homes increases sharply from 1,300 to 2,000.

Increasing delivery on this scale is possible but requires concerted action to unblock barriers. Most urgent is achieving a ‘game-changer’ on land supply. With so many sites still tied-up with the banks and NAMA, public bodies must bring forward more of their unused land. DoE’s draft Strategic Planning Policy Statement (SPPS) should also be amended to include stronger guidance that housing need is robustly assessed and fully met through new development plans, including through an adequate supply of readily available sites.

In providing new homes, housing associations are matching government grant pound for pound, delivering many more homes than would be possible with public funding alone. NIFHA members have already secured over £600 million in competitively priced private finance − £125 million in 2012/2013 alone. Housing associations are increasingly seeking funds from the capital debt markets. So far this has been done through aggregators, but it is exciting that Oaklee Trinity and other housing associations are now contemplating their own bond issues, perhaps for £100 million plus. This additional investment will greatly help get Northern Ireland building again, creating jobs and meeting housing need.

Constructing great homes is central to housing associations’ mission. But our sector is equally committed to building thriving communities. A central theme of DSD’s Social Housing Reform Programme is the ‘Housing Plus’ agenda. This is about landlords going beyond the provision of housing, care and support to deliver a wider range of community services. Oaklee’s central role in the development of the Skainos Centre and the regeneration of that part of east Belfast is a shining example of Housing Plus.

Ever closer engagement with customers is also a top priority. Oaklee Trinity and other associations are leading the way in ensuring tenants have a real say in shaping the services they receive and the future of their areas. For example tenant forums allow customers to come together to discuss issues, share good practice and consult on developments with their landlord.

In spite of the upturn, the next few years will be tough for Northern Ireland’s economy and society. However as our largest and most successful social enterprises, housing associations are well placed to work with partners to provide more homes, jobs and investment in communities across Northern Ireland.

NIFHA Logo 6c Citylink Business Park

Albert Street

Belfast BT12 4HB

Tel: 028 9023 0446

Web: www.nifha.org

E-mail: info@nifha.org

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