Housing report

Helping meet the unmet housing need in Northern Ireland

The Chair of Woven Housing Association (formerly Habinteg), Neil McIvor, discusses the urgent need to deliver more homes across Northern Ireland and the challenges which stand in the way.

Northern Ireland is in the midst of a housing crisis. Over the past decade, the social housing waiting list has been growing, outstripping the supply of available housing. Today, there are almost 50,000 people waiting for suitable accommodation. There has been a significant rise in the number of households with homelessness status and the need for temporary accommodation is increasing every month.

In 2023, the number of new homes completed locally fell to its lowest level in more than 64 years causing a housing supply crisis.

To address this problem there is an urgent need to deliver more homes across Northern Ireland in both the private and social sectors. Housing associations, however, face many challenges in meeting this need.

Over the past two years, increased construction and running costs, borrowing costs and pressures on rent levels all played a part and threatened the viability of continued growth which is a massive strategic issue for all associations.

The financial capacity of associations to deal with a range of adverse scenarios, even with grant funding, is hugely impacted by factors such as rising costs, inflation, and cost of living pressures for our tenants.

As an association, Woven is working hard to keep rent levels affordable but with rising costs across all aspects of delivery and funding limitations this is challenging.
The proposed cuts to Northern Ireland’s capital budget are alarming and threaten to further reduce the supply of much needed social housing at a time when demand has reached an unprecedented high. Investment in social housing positively impacts the local economy through job creation and supply chain benefits, in addition to significant human and community benefits. Having a home is the basis for happier, healthier and more positive lives.

Furthermore, budgetary pressures on funding streams such as Supporting People have impacted on the development and delivery of adequate supported housing solutions. At Woven, we are committed to providing residents with independence, whilst having access to some on-site support services to enhance their living experience.

Statutory approvals including planning permission is a laborious and lengthy process which is impeding housing supply. Challenges around sewage infrastructure and wastewater capacity are also having a detrimental impact.

Section 76 (planning gain), however, has been a welcome addition, ensuring that house builders and developers provide a certain amount of affordable housing in larger schemes. Unfortunately, these homes are also impacted by statutory approval delays. A priority for the Executive must be to streamline the process and timescales which are holding all housing developers back.

Unfortunately, there is much stigma around social housing with many still believing that the sector attracts high levels of antisocial behaviour and settlement issues.

In particular, one-bedroom properties and apartment developments struggle with negative perceptions, but these are one of the most needed property mix on the waiting list. Demographics are changing; we have an ageing population and more singles with no dependants who need homes.

By developing more one-bedroom homes, associations can accommodate tenants who are ready to downsize. This frees up larger properties for larger families on the list, helping meet unmet needs.

Due to social and affordable policies coming into councils such as Belfast City Council, and Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council there has been a shift towards encouraging mixed tenure and mixed-use developments.

Thriving and sustainable communities

Mixed tenure developments will not fix the housing crisis alone, but they will encourage more development opportunities that foster a greater social, economic and community mix. This will support thriving and sustainable communities and help break down unfounded perceptions of social housing.

Girona Close, one of Woven’s ‘Housing for All’ schemes.

In addition to developing more homes, Woven are committed to investing in refurbishing existing homes to meet and exceed the current standards and tenant expectations, while achieving government sustainability standards. Committed to achieving net zero through energy efficiency and sustainable development, these refurbishments allow Woven to reduce running costs for tenants which is critical given the cost-of-living crisis.

Following Woven’s rebrand this year, we have committed to investing over £150 million in new developments, stock upgrades, and enhanced housing services over the next five years.

Currently, Woven provides over 2,500 homes across a range of housing solutions including supported, sheltered, and general needs housing. We are committed to working in collaboration with our partners to explore mixed tenure and mixed-use developments, which offer a sense of place where communities can be woven together as one and provide opportunities for residents to live and work within a vibrant and integrated environment.

Current pressures on the local housing system cannot continue and there will be substantial adverse consequences for individuals, families, and society if additional funding and reform are not prioritised. With the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running, we look forward to working with MLAs and other housing associations to implement positive changes across the sector.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss new partnerships and opportunities to meet housing need. If you would like more information, please email info@woven.org.uk

Neil McIvor, Chairman of the Board at Woven Housing Association

T: 028 9042 7211
E: info@woven.org.uk

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