I write in relation to the DFC Ministers proposal announced today to address social housing needs in Northern Ireland through legislative and structural change.
Key to this is the broadly welcome announcement of revitalising the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to build again, retain and maintain existing stock. This announcement on the face of it appears to be welcome news to NIPSA who have campaigned for over a decade on this point.
However, this statement aims to achieve this by separating out the Landlord function from the Regional Authority function to enable declassification of the landlord function to become a “mutual or co-operative” body rather than a Public Authority where it can borrow funds to build and remove the burden of corporation tax and NIHE associated historical debts.
NIPSA has expressed concerns consistently with regards to separating out specific functions of Public Bodies as a sign of potential Privatisation and indeed advised the minister today of the need to see the details of any proposed body to ensure that it is indeed the NIHE with recognised accountability rather than a Housing Association in all but name.
NIPSA requested that as a major stakeholder and contributor to the Social Housing debate through its published series of papers titled “21st Century Housing for Northern Ireland” by Stewart Smyth that we would play an active part throughout all processes with regards to identifying and development of any new model to be developed. This was met not just by approval from the minister but recognition of this as an essential position in bringing about change.
NIPSA sought clarification from the minister in relation to the Public Service status of Jobs, Terms and conditions of NIHE members and whilst the minister was reassuring that these will be protected NIPSA requested a statement of no compulsory redundancies.
NIPSA restated the importance of building on the expertise of the NIHE in delivering services within a divided society and the need to ensure the participation of its tenants in any decisions as was exercised in previous proposals to transfer stock in areas such as Ballyclare and Ballymena when voting to remain with the NIHE.
NIPSA having campaigned for the removal of the practice of discounted selling of NIHE homes welcomes the announcement acknowledging the contradictions of this practice and intention to review with the aim of retaining and maintaining existing stock. NIPSA would call for this to proposal to include not just retaining stock but to reclaim lost stock.
The minister agreed to report back to Trade Unions in three weeks’ time with regards to next steps and a timetable going forward.
NIPSA will therefore continue to vigilante and focused on behalf of members to ensure that members interests are integral to any proposed changes in meeting the Social Housing needs of the communities they and their families live in.