Missing the target for New Build Social Housing

Missing the target for New Build Social Housing in Rural Communities.
Part 1
In this 2 part Blog, our policy officer Aidan Campbell explains the shortfall in new build social housing in rural communities and what that means for prospective tenants and the communities they live in.
Social housing in Northern Ireland is provided by social landlords below market rent for people who are in housing need.  Up until 1996 the Housing Executive was the main provider of social housing and is still the biggest social landlord in Northern Ireland.  It rents over 85,000 properties, but it no longer builds new social housing.  In the late 1990s a Housing Policy review transferred responsibility for building new social housing from the Housing Executive to the Housing Associations.   Housing Associations are independent, not for profit, social businesses that provide homes and support for people in housing need.  The Department for Communities provides Housing Association Grant (HAG), through the Housing Executive to the Associations to finance new build social housing. HAG is approximately 50% of the total capital cost per unit.  The remainder of the cost of new build social housing must be raised by the Housing Associations borrowing money from the private market or re-investing from their own funds. 

The Housing Executive, although no longer building new homes, undertakes a range of functions under its regional services remit.  If you are in housing need you apply through the Housing Executive.  They assess each applicant using a points-based system and a common waiting list is created from which both Housing Executive and Housing Associations allocate homes to those most in need.  Those applicants with 30+ points are said to be in “housing stress”. In theory this is how the system is supposed to work.  In practice, if you want to live in an area where there is high demand for social housing (such as North & West Belfast) you can get stuck on the waiting list even if you are deemed as being in housing stress.

Each year a target for new build social housing is set by Government.  The Programme for Government Outcomes Delivery Plan 2018/19 says that it will use the numbers of households in housing stress to measure and report on progress.  It also stated that in 18/19 1850 new social home starts were to be provided.  A separate rural target, which is a percentage of the overall target, is also set by the Housing Executive as part of its commitment to rural proofing.  This recognises that a percentage of social housing applicants who put down a “rural” area as their first choice when applying.  The Housing Executive defines “rural” areas as being those settlements with a population of less than 5000 people and open countryside.  For four out of the past five years the rural new build target has been missed.  The target for new build social housing in NI last year was 1850 units with 1786 started.  11.5% of that 1850 target (212 units) were supposed to be built in rural communities.  This reflects the 11.5% of applicants on the waiting list who wanted a rural area as their first choice.  Of the 212 target 129 units were provided in rural areas.  So, 96% of the overall target was achieved and the shortfall was in rural areas. 

There is a huge mismatch in the level of new build social housing compared to the level of housing need across Northern Ireland. Simply put we aren’t building enough social housing.   According to NISRA’s Northern Ireland Housing Statistics 2017/18  report 36,198 applicants were on the social housing waiting list.  Of those 24,148 were deemed to be in housing stress with 30+ points.   Although the overall target set by government for last year was almost achieved (1786 starts out of a target of 1850) it won’t make much impact on the overall waiting list.  Even if no one else came onto the waiting list it would take 13 years to build enough social housing at our current rate of new starts to house those people already in housing stress. 

In previous decades the rate of social house building was more than twice what we are building now:
“In the 1980s the Housing Executive typically built more than 5000 dwellings per year.”[1]

This is a chronic issue in North and West Belfast that has been highlighted extensively by the Participation and Practice of Rights Project and lots of other community organisations in the ci