Demand continues to exceed supply’ says housing boss

We want to rent from private sector says top official

AN appeal has been made to property owners across Ards and North Down to come forward if they are keen to rent accommodation.

Grainnie Long, chief executive of the Housing Executive, said the housing body is keen to lease properties across the borough in a bid to ease ongoing housing problems.

With over 3,000 on the waiting list and 2,000 of those in housing stress, Ms Long said the Executive wants to rent homes from the private sector.

She was answering a question from independent Unionist Wesley Irvine who raised concerns about the lack of temporary housing accommodation across the borough given ‘the amount of landlords asking people to move on’.

In response Ms Long said the Housing Executively is ‘actively’ looking for properties to lease as it is ‘seven times more expensive to place people in hotels’ which is ‘not a good use of public money and not good for families’ and only used ‘in extreme circumstances’.

Keen to ‘get the message out there’, she appealed to any property owners who wished to lease their accommodation to get in touch with the local housing body. She said they were keen to move to longer term leases of five to 10 years and away from short term leases.

Said Ms Long: “We will give the property back to you as we leased it. That is the ideal solution and will give us a steadier supply.”

Calling for more public sector housing in the Donaghadee area, independent councillor Tom Smith said: “With all the private developments (in the area) where is the Housing Executive? The waiting lists are long and people do want to stay as locally as possible.”

Owen Brady, the Housing Executive’s Ards and North Down manager, highlighted the difficulty acquiring sites in both the Donaghadee and Groomsport areas given the interest by private developers. However, he said the housing body was ‘actively looking’ in both areas.

Alliance councillor Hannah Irwin asked had local tenants been affected by the re-tendering of planned maintenance contracts but Mr Brady gave assurances tenants had not been impacted with all work being carried out on time and to a high standard.

2,000 in housing stress top HE official tells local councillors

THE Housing Executive invested £34.02m across the borough over the last 12 months as ‘demand continues to exceed supply’ with over two thousand people live in ‘housing stress’.

At a recent meeting of the Corporate Services Committee, councillors were briefed by Housing Executive chief executive Grainia Long on its investment in the borough over the past 12 months, its future plans and the challenges faced by the housing body.

Locally last year £11.11m was invested in new build accommodation in the borough, with 69 housing starts getting underway, 108 units on-site at March 2022 with 45 house completions in the year.

Looking to the future, the Ards and North Down Housing Investment Plan for 2022 shows £19.58m will be spent on public sector housing in the year ahead, including

£6.38m for planned maintenance, £4.38m for response maintenance and £1.89m for adaptions for persons with a disability.

The Housing Executive chief explained this investment would take place against a backdrop of a number of challenges including a growing elderly population, the need to invest in existing housing stock, the continued rise of people living in ‘housing stress’ as ‘demand continues to exceed supply’ across the borough.

Current statistics show there are 3,229 people on the Ards and North Down housing waiting list in March earlier this year, with 2,206 people classified as living in housing stress or priority need. There were 528 housing allocations over the year.

Said Ms Long: “We face a major housing challenge in every council area, with continuing demand for social housing and homelessness services. Waiting lists for social housing, as well as levels of homelessness, have risen significantly in recent years and show little sign of falling.”

Regarding investment Ms Long said: “We invested over £195m in 2021/22, the highest level of investment since 2007/08 and – for the first time in 20 years – we will soon commence building new homes for social rent via a pilot project. In Ards and North Down, we invested £9.68m on planned maintenance including stock improvements last year, with a further £4.21m spent on response maintenance.

“Over the past two years, we’ve provided a wide range of assistance to tenants and communities, supporting them through the Covid-19 pandemic. As we emerge from the pandemic, we continue to pro-actively engage with and support tenants who face additional ‘cost of living’ and lifestyle adjustment pressures.”

The Housing Executive, through the Supporting People programme, also invested £5.53m to fund 71 Housing Support Services across the Ards and North Down Borough Council area, providing housing support to 1,454 clients last year.

Said Ms Long: “Across the borough, 1,228 people who presented as homeless were accepted for support last year. A strategic shift in favour of homelessness prevention and early intervention is critical if we’re to provide a sustainable model of provision to prevent homelessness.

“£50k in grant funding was provided to support local groups in the borough, across several funding streams, including our Community Grants, Community Safety and Community Cohesion programmes.”

Ms Long said: “Our focus is working with partners to lever in funding to scale-up the implementation of energy efficiency measures, across all housing tenures, to effectively tackle climate change and reduce fuel poverty.

“Despite sustained levels of investment in new social housing across Northern Ireland, the gap between housing demand and supply continues to widen.”