Posted 24 August 2021
- a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
- the place in which one’s domestic affections are centred
What does the word ‘home’ mean to you? To me it means shelter, safety, health and stability. I live in a home in the community I grew up in but for lots of people across Northern Ireland that aspiration is not achievable at the moment. Not every young person who grows up in a rural community will want to remain there or return there after education. For those that want to remain or return to rural communities it’s important that they have the chance to do so. Social and affordable housing in rural communities affords that opportunity to people whom the housing market has failed.
The return of the Northern Ireland Assembly in January was accompanied by The New Decade New Approach document, signed up to by all the parties, which makes important commitments to addressing housing issues. Housing stress was explicitly recognised as an issue that impacts greatly in people’s lives and a specific outcome on housing will be included in the new Programme for Government. New Decade New Approach goes on to say that:
“The Executive will also enhance investment and agree a target for new social and affordable home starts and tackle the maintenance backlog for Northern Ireland Housing Executive properties.”
Rural Community Network welcomes this re-focus on social and intermediate housing and looks forward to the delivery of new social and affordable home starts, especially in rural communities. There is much work to do. The target for social home starts in rural communities has been missed in five out of the last six years.
The Rural Residents’ Forum met with political parties whilst the Assembly was suspended to highlight the need for more social housing in rural communities. All were agreed that this was a priority and recognised the important contribution social housing makes to rural communities. Social housing is rightly prioritised in the New Decade New Approach document and rural communities look forward to a renewed commitment to meeting social housing stress. Communities Minister, Deirdre Hargey, signalled her personal commitment to the issue in May by stating that housing was a priority for her and that she had great ambitions to deliver more housing targeted to areas most in need.
The pandemic response by established community groups, sporting organisations and church groups as well as by informal groups of neighbours who came together has shown the importance of solidarity between people. Our Rural Residents’ Forum members were involved in Covid response work in their own communities and were galvanised by the numbers of new volunteers who stepped forward to help their neighbours who were vulnerable. That community response needed a diverse range of people across different age groups to be effective. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown has forced society to pause and to reassess who and what is important in life and what is essential in terms of work, travel and care. Maybe it is also a time to reassess how we value and prioritise social housing in this new decade.
Policy Officer, Rural Community Network
 For further information on the Rural Residents’ Forum click https://www.ruralcommunitynetwork.org/programme-categories/rural-residents-forum/