In respect of this additional consultation on the “Definition of Affordable Housing” I would firstly draw your attention to NIPSA’s initial submission of September 2019.
In particular I would like to reinforce NIPSA’s initial view that the Primary focus should be for Government and the assembly on behalf of its citizens to focus on a Public Housing Policy which provides Public Housing and economically affordable social housing rather than a “Housing Market” approach.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to address the growing problem of Housing Stress and homelessness the significant contribution of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) as key workers should not only be recognised but utilised as a the key agency to tackling and progressing Public and affordable social housing going forward.
The NIHE are already seeing the commencement of a housing crisis caused by loss of work, reduction in hours and a dwindling economy due to the pandemic, by redefining "affordable housing" the risk to current and future clients of the waiting list will be astronomical but largely avoidable by ensuring that NIHE are properly funded, the right to build is reinstated and the existing and new client base have a first class service as has been the case for over 40 years
This consultation should therefore as NIPSA initially points out not be considered in isolation but as part of the wider debate that takes in public and social housing, homelessness, the decision to reclassify Housing Associations, Review of Private Rental Sector, Review of Social Housing Associations, the Right To Buy Scheme, Stock Transfer Programme and the overarching Social Housing Reform Programme.
NIPSA calls for the Government and Assembly to review and reverse their decision to place a blanket ban on the NIHE being able to borrow funds with the purpose of building new homes, renovate and repair existing stock.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on both citizens and their economic environment needs to be considered and integrated into Housing Policy going forward.
Further considering the potential impact of the pandemic long term, consideration must be given to the financial and economic position of the private rented sector, private landlords may well find themselves in difficulty and either increasing rent or selling the properties thus leading further to more homelessness.
Acknowledging the Governments concerns around an economic recession arising out of the pandemic NIPSA would seek to draw your attention to their initial submission which clearly highlights the positive economic benefits that could come from enabling the NIHE to borrow and undertake new builds that would create thousands of jobs and hundreds of new apprenticeships.
NIPSA therefore calls on the Department to seize the opportunity to reconsider its Priorities and focus on citizen’s needs rather than “facilitating “the market” or privatise the provision of Public Housing.”
The links between Poverty and Housing are well documented and as Rebecca Tunstall et al in “The Links Between Poverty and Housing” state “Poverty and low incomes prevent people from accessing potential housing options, and make others hard to sustain. This evidence review explores how housing can mitigate or exacerbate the impact of poverty on people's lives.”
The key issue remains the emphasis on what is “affordability” for many of the low income families this is not grounded on the reality of their incomes rather it is defined within the “market” which leaves it at either unachievable or unsustainable levels of financing that will ultimately result in exasperating housing stress and poverty for those most vulnerable.
NIPSA at paragraph 7 of its initial submission refers to the need to consider whether any proposed change would help or hinder government policy and in the case of redefining the definition of affordability with an emphasis on the market would prove to be the “death knell of the provision of Public housing and economically affordable social housing”.
It therefore remains NIPSA view that this proposal seeks to redesign the definition of affordable housing and should be set aside at this time to enable a public debate on all housing matters which have sat in the recent vacuum of a non-sitting assembly and only recently been resurrected with “New Decade, New Approach” following the reforming of a new assembly.