McCausland Faces Widespread Criticism Over NIHE Announcement
WAS this a political red herring to get the public focus off the scent of the current flag row or was it a mis-timed but well-intentioned gaff by the DSD Minister Nelson McCausland to attempt to modernise the housing administration in Northern Ireland? Whatever the reasons why he chose to throw his proposal into the public domain first and bypass the Assembly, the outcome has been a quick and widespread political furore.
Ritchie Says McCausland ‘Has It Wrong’
Former DSD Minister and SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie has joined the debate on the proposed abolition of the Housing Executive.
Following on from Nelson McCausland’s surprise mid-week announcement, former DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie said: “Nelson McCausland has got this all wrong. While a proposal has been under consideration for a long time to separate out different parts of the NI Housing Executive – for some very good reasons it was never proposed that the organisation should be completely abolished, as was reported.
“There has always been a case for moving the NIHE’s landlord activities into a Housing Association format so that it could borrow funds and access private capital – because NIHE in its present format cannot do so. However it was always my view, and that of my successor Alex Attwood, that the remaining regional strategic housing authority would continue to be the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
“Nelson McCausland appears to have some grudge against the Housing Executive despite the fact that it has been one of our most successful institutions over the last 40 years. I believe he is going too far with his proposed changes and I believe this matter has yet to be finalised by Ministers in the Executive.
“All of this is also taking away attention from the fact that we still have sky high levels of homelessness and housing need and this Minister seems to be more interested in nobbling the NIHE than in delivering the maximum possible results for tenants and those in need”.
Housing Council Member O’Neill Says Statement Was ‘Ham-fisted’
SDLP councillor Eamonn ONeill , who is Down District Council’s representative on the Northern Ireland Housing Council, was outraged by DSD Minister Nelson McCausland’s statement on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. He said: “This is a vitally important time for housing in Northern Ireland. We all know and are aware that change is needed but for the Minister and the Department to approach this stage of that change in this way is completely ham-fisted!
“They all appeared to have no understanding of the sensitivities around the Housing Executive and its performance and history. There are political sensitivities, there are community and sectarian sensitivities, there are Human Rights and Equality sensitivities, there are financial and business sensitivities and not least of all there are staff sensitivities.
“It is unbelievable that all this could be so easily cast aside with phrases such as , ‘the current model is simply not sustainable’ and the Housing Executive ‘does not make best use of public resources nor does it allow sufficient flexibility‘ which are clearly not accurate.
“Why the statement could not have concentrated on the need to consult on what was needed as was listed later in the statement is beyond me. One on this list is the kernel of what is needed:
* develop of a sustainable financing model for social housing that provides access to private funds to allow future investment.
“It is the current method of funding that is no longer sustainable and that is where the fundamental change should be and there should be a concentrated focus by all concerned to come up with the best formula. After all the Housing Executive have still got 90,000 houses and a lot of other assets all paid for out of public funds. Surely it is not outside the ability of those involved to see a situation where the financial capability of these assets could not be used to provide for and sustain social housing?
“It is also incredible that the following statement should be included:
‘There is a need to consider the role of the Housing Council in the context of the proposed new housing structures; the role of Assembly scrutiny; and the Local Government Reform proposals and future functions of Councils. I propose, therefore, following consultation, to dissolve the Housing Council”.
“Beside the strange construction of this paragraph there is a fundamental flaw in the minister’s thinking. Surely it is usual that consultation takes place before a decision is made. He clearly has his mind made up! He has with a poorly constructed sentence dismissed all the good work done by the Northern Ireland Housing Council. The work of the Housing Council has been beneficial to the provision of decent social housing throughout the North.
“issues such as carbon monoxide detectors, double glazing, disabled adaptations, lifetime homes have come through the Housing Council and demonstrate how vitally important it is and has been. Throughout all the troubles the Housing Council remained a body focused on the provision and improvement of housing for all sections of the community. To remove it signals the diminishing role of local government in Housing and is a democratic deficit.”
Hazzard Says Tenant’s Rights and Social Housing Must Take Priority
Sinn Féin MLA Chris Hazzard commenting on the review of the Housing Executive said: “It is important that the rights of tenants and the need for social housing is kept as the central focus of any proposed change to the Housing Executive.
“The review of the Housing Executive began under the SDLP Minister Alex Attwood, and has continued under Nelson McCausland. The review and the need for fundamental change was recognised and welcomed by all stakeholders including the Housing Executive.
“The Housing Executive was set up in 1971 to address the sectarian allocation of housing and to remove the slum dwellings across the North. It has achieved a good deal but more still needs to be done.
“Sinn Féin’s approach to this review has been very clear. Any outcomes must ensure an increase in social housing provision, the allocation of such housing stock on the basis of objective need and the need to continue to ensure the rights of tenants are protected.
“Given the demand for social housing in the North of Ireland it is important that we keep the focus on achieving a commitment from the Minister to invest in a comprehensive building scheme that will meet the demands of the area.”
Alliance Councillor Says McCausland is Out Of Order
Alliance Party South Down spokesperson Councillor Patrick Clarke has strongly criticised the Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland MLA for announcing his decision to abolish the Housing Executive in a press release rather than a statement on the floor of the Assembly.
Councillor Patrick Clarke said: “Such a major and very important decision should have been announced firstly on the floor of the Assembly rather than in a press release sent out to MLA’s and the media.
“I hope that the Minister will allow MLA’s and my Alliance colleagues to question and scrutinize this decision and the manner in which it was announced in the Assembly on Monday.”
“Alliance believes that all of these new measures should be fully scrutinized with public consultation where appropriate. There needs to full consideration of all the equality and good relations aspects of these proposals. There needs to be a detailed discussion at both the Social Development Committee and on the floor of the Assembly.”
Alliance Councillor Clarke has written to Minister McCausland asking him directly on how his proposals will likely to affect jobs in County Down and specifically at the new Down Civic Centre.