Bleak outlook for housing as Housing Executive publishes its response to the Northern Ireland Draft Budget

Grainia Long, Housing Executive Chief Executive,
Grainia Long, Housing Executive Chief Executive,

Identifying the immediate loss of hundreds of temporary accommodation units and the risk of a dramatic reduction in the number of newly built social homes within three years, the Housing Executive has advised the Department of Finance of the impact of the draft budget for housing. 

It has asked that the draft budget is reviewed to re-prioritise spend on homeless households and those on the waiting list in urgent need of housing. 

Chief Executive, Grainia Long said: “This draft budget presents a bleak outlook for housing with negative consequences - especially for those relying on homeless services or those on the waiting list for social housing. 

“Of immediate concern is the removal of funding from the draft budget which had previously been available to deal with the effects of Covid-19 – a pandemic which continues to profoundly impact on homeless provision and the wider housing system - this will leave a lasting and - in some cases - permanent effect.
“Demand for temporary accommodation more than trebled between 2018/19 & 2020/21 and has continued to increase further during 2021/22.
“We estimate that by the end of the current financial year around 6,100 people will be living in 4,250 units of temporary accommodation.
“Without the continuation of the COVID-19 funding, we will be forced to remove almost 900 units of temporary accommodation, within weeks, and potentially put on hold our plans for measures aimed at preventing homelessness. 

“In the longer term, if the allocation for homelessness services equals the baseline funding level for 2021/22 - as set out in the draft budget - there is inadequate finance to address need or to undertake the strategic shift we need to prevent soaring homelessness in the future, by taking a housing-first approach. 

“This will also lead to uncertainty across partner organisations in the homelessness sector and the frontline services they provide. 

“We have advised that there is an urgent and sustained need for homeless services funding to be re-prioritised as part of the 2022-25 budget and prioritised within the proposed Department for Communities funding allocation. 
“Additionally, under the current proposed capital allocation to the Department for Communities, the much needed social housing programme will be severely curtailed, especially in years two and three. 

“New housing is the means to counter the increasing waiting list, which is already at a record level.
“The target for this year is 1,900 social housing starts, with increasing outputs required year-on-year to make an imprint into housing need. 

“This simply will not happen under draft budget proposed spend. 

“We recognise the decision taken by the NI Executive that it will prioritise Green Growth and social housing with any surplus capital DEL which emerges, however, this does not provide the certainty required to enable housing associations to take the development decisions needed to sustain new build numbers.

“Since coming into post, the Minister for Communities has demonstrated a clear commitment to housing and homelessness, which has been hugely welcome. 

“This has driven a major programme of revitalisation of the Housing Executive and also the publication of the Housing Supply Strategy. 

“However, these programmes must be underpinned with the necessary investment to deliver.  
“Throughout the pandemic, the Housing Executive and our partners in the housing sector, witnessed the wider health and wellbeing impacts of COVID-19, worsening mental health issues, addictions and offending behaviours, with financial hardship and rising unemployment. 

“This has been especially prevalent in our engagement with those who have found themselves homeless, those in housing need and those struggling with housing costs.

“The Housing Executive is very concerned that the proposed broad-brush funding cut to facilitate funding health and social care services, is also applied to those public services which complement health and drive health outcomes. 

“A failure to fund homelessness, supporting accommodation services and the supply of decent housing will contribute to increased demands being placed on health budgets immediately, and in the longer term. 

“In the event that funding cuts are required to assist health and social care services, they must be targeted in a way to ensure that the delivery of complementary public services are stabilised. 

“There must be recognition of the clear need to support priority programmes such as homelessness, supported accommodation services and new social housing provision - these are crucial for the health and wellbeing of many people in Northern Ireland.”