Investment in Housing
This week in the Assembly the SDLP was successful in passing a motion calling on the Executive to acknowledge the £100 million shortfall in the housing budget and to give top priority to housing in the forthcoming June monitoring round.
We in the SDLP believe investment in housing brings great social benefit, in dealing with homelessness and, more particularly, it offers the best route available to addressing the effects of the current recession. The need for dramatically increased levels of social housing was given a high priority by the Executive in order that we successfully tackle the housing crisis. People in North Belfast do not need to be reminded of the crisis which exists in housing in this part of the city. We in the SDLP have long recognized, and worked for, an extensive new build programme for North Belfast. The Semple Report, into social and affordable housing, recommended a dramatic increase in the newbuild social housing programme to 2,000 houses a year, up from about 800 a year. The Executive adopted that recommendation and set a target of 10,000 new social homes in five years. The Minister for Social Development made immediate plans to put that into effect, budgeting to build more than 5,000 houses in the first three years. Members will remember that her initial budget was inadequate for that task. Some told her to keep quiet and accept the money; however, she did not, and an increased budget was allocated.
Since then we have seen a large decrease in revenue to the housing budget, as the sale of social housing has effectively dried up, leading to a situation were the deficit is now £100 million. There are 1,750 projected housing starts this year, the highest for many years, as the Minister recognizes that the building of new social housing is the best way to tackle the housing crisis. The current economic downturn has hit many families across North Belfast particularly hard. Homelessness and repossessions have increased in recent years, whereas prior to that they had been decreasing dramatically.
A significant proportion of the existing housing stock is also in poor condition and in urgent need of repair and renovation. It is well established that there is a link between poor housing and poor health. In order to tackle the issues of public health we must first tackle the issue of poor housing.
The recession that we are in has created many problems in housing but at present housing programmes give better value for money than they would have last year. Material costs have dropped by as much as 17% and we have seen a decrease in labour costs. This is an opportunity for us to kick start our economy. It is a chance for us to get those who work in our construction industry back in to work and back on to the building sites. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
Now more than ever there is a need for the crisis in housing to be tackled. We have in office a Minister who knows what the problems are. She knows how to tackle the problems, which could not only restart our economy, but could help improve the health of a large section of our community. What she needs is for the Executive to recognize that this is the best way forward and for the additional funding which she requires to be allocated to her department.
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