Councillor Devlin addresses private rented sector issues in council motion
Yesterday evening (Monday 1st August 2022), SDLP Newcastle councillor Laura Devlin brought forward a motion to Newry Mourne and Down District Council addressing the urgent issues facing the private rented sector across the district.
The motion reads: “This Council calls on the Communities Minister to immediately act and assist with the crisis within the private rented sector, which is particularly affecting our tourist towns and villages. That consideration be given to the reintroduction of the ‘Living Over the Shops Scheme’ or other such initiatives that would allow for vacant properties to be brought back to life for private rental.”
Addressing her council colleagues, Cllr Devlin said in speaking to the motion said: “Right across our District we have a housing crisis… a housing crisis we all know too well.
“Our Council took the lead in organising housing conferences which our chair Cllr Michael Savage has done significant works since coming onto Council. However the issue has been magnified in recent months.
“I take Newcastle as an example, but the same can be said for many of our towns and villages across the District. I have noticed a marked increase in families seeking alternative accommodation as their current landlords has decided to sell the property or opt for the holiday rental market.
“So, the supply of long-term private rental accommodation has dried up significantly, so we have families who have lived in Newcastle for their whole life facing a horrendous situation where they don’t know where they will be in a few months time.
“Parents are unsure if their children will be able to return to their same school come September, as where they will be living is so up in the air. This concerns me greatly. We want people who play such an active role in our community to have a home and a future here.”
Cllr Devlin also stressed that those affected in the private rented sector are also faced with the long-term concerns about the viability of schools, clubs etc if the private rented properties are being retained for tourists.
Cllr Devlin added: “I fully support tourism in our area and appreciate how popular the area has become which is why I am certainly not discouraging tourism – far from it. But the Communities Minister must intervene and provide some alternative options or schemes to deal with the housing crisis we currently have here in Newcastle and throughout many of our other towns and villages.
“We require more affordable and social housing. We need schemes that tackle the dereliction in many of our towns and villages as these are properties which could be utilised by these same families seeking accommodation.
“I mentioned the former Living over the Shops Scheme, however, I am not simply focusing on this one scheme. I am calling for innovative solutions to tackle what is already a disastrous situation and one which is set to worsen greatly.”
Cllr Devlin added: “I would therefore welcome any such schemes which improves the local housing stock in our area. The main concern of mine is the Mournes but I know of similar issues in Castlewellan and Dundrum. I think many settlements across and around our beautiful coastline in particular are affected by this housing crisis which has now been exacerbated by the Air B n B factor.
“We have no Executive to address this issue which is an absolute disgrace, but I feel that the Communities Minister has a duty to act to assist these local families who are now very much in need.”
Councillors Back Devlin’s Motion
Councillors supported Cllr Devlin’s motion recognising the urgency of the housing problem.
Cllr Terry Andrews (SDLP) seconded the motion. He said: “This motion is very relevant. It addresses homelessness and organisation such as the NIHE and other housing agencies must do more to address the issues and the housing shortage.”
Cllr Barra O Muirí (Sinn Féin) said: “We are hugely supportive of this motion. We all recognise the need in bigger town and in the city of Newry. I would suggest that our officers draw up a paper analysing the situation collating the necessary information. There are also public lands which could be surplus assets which could be used to improve housing stock.”
Cllr Glynn Hanna (DUP) said: “We also support this motion and can see issues around Kilkeel and Annalong as well as Newcastle. Properties in multiple occupation can lead to a situation where there is severe pressure on parking spaces. We need a scheme that can improve on this. I get a lot of people ringing me about private sector accommodation problems and I can see this translating to a serious problem down the line.”
Cllr Andrew McMurray (Alliance) said: “We are very supportive of the motion and the living over shops idea could be a positive move. It would be important that these solutions are done well for the clients who own the properties.”
Cllr David Taylor (UUP) said: “It would be useful to introduce a working paper which the officers could bring forward. It would make the response to the Department more effective. We need creative ideas for each town to address the issues. The Loving Above The Shop scheme is certainly worth considering for town centres. However, with the present lack of a NI Executive and ministers operating as caretakers for their departments, it may be difficult to progress far with this issue at the moment.”