Housing Executive to be abolished
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is to be abolished and replaced with a new regional housing body.
Wednesday, 09 January 2013
It is thought the Housing Executive's stock of 90,000 homes will be transferred to possibly new housing associations.
Announcing the move on Wednesday, Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland said he believes the reforms are good news for tax payers, tenants and those in housing need.
In a written statement to the Assembly he said: "My Department will have responsibility for overall Housing Strategy, policy, legislation and funding - setting the strategic vision for housing in Northern Ireland and developing the policies which underpin that vision.
Whilst the NIHE has had a long history of delivering social housing, the current model is simply not sustainable, does not make best use of public resources nor does it allow sufficient flexibility and focus on supporting tenants and meeting their needs now and in the future
"In addition, there will be significant enhancement of the Department's Regulation & Inspection Unit and function. The Department will be supported in the delivery of strategy and policy by a Regional Housing Body staffed by housing professionals to deliver regional housing services, programmes and operational strategies, in effect the non-landlord functions of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
"The development of a new landlord function out with the public sector focusing on service to tenants and enabling access to private funding to allow for suitable investment.
"The establishment of an Independent Social Housing Rent Panel which will agree annual rent levels based on a rental policy.
"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.
"Going forward, I will bring forward proposals to ensure that the Regional Housing Body engages formally and works closely with the new 11 councils given in particular their new role for both land use and community planning."
While the progress of these proposals will now be a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Executive, the Housing Executive welcomes the Ministers commitment that tenants will be consulted and involved in any major changes.
John McPeake, NI Housing Executive Chief executive
Dr John McPeake, Housing Executive Chief executive said he "recognises that change is required to sustain investment in social housing in Northern Ireland".
He added: "We believe this is essential in order to maintain high standards in housing services.
Mr McPeake said in the intervening period, he will be arguing the case that the structures put in place to replace the Housing Executive should be "underpinned by our core values of fairness and equity which have served our customers well over 40 years".
He also urged that staff will have a clear understanding of their future roles as soon as possible.
Times change and new structures are needed to guarantee high quality social housing in future, not least to secure private investment to refurbish the Executive’s 90,000 homes and to build new social homes.
Cameron Watt from the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations welcomed the announcement, which he described as good news for people in housing need.
"There is a shortfall in funding of over £1bn that has to be filled to bring existing Housing Executive homes up to a good standard," he said, adding that he hopes putting the landlord out to the public sector will build on the success of existing housing associations.
"NIFHA believes there is a compelling case for independent regulation of rented housing in Northern Ireland, as recently introduced in Scotland and England.
"This would provide most reassurance for tenants and certainty for landlords, and we'll continue to make this case ahead of the housing bill," he said.
In recent years, the Housing Executive has attracted criticism for its oversight of maintenance contactors.
SDLP Environment Minister Alex Attwood said Mr McCausland had "jumped the gun" on announcing the abolishing of the Housing Executive as no final decisions had been taken.
He said: "It is my view that the new Regional Housing body proposed, in the Fundamental Review of the NIHE should be Housing Executive less its landlord functions. It should also retain the Northern Ireland Housing Executive name."
Alliance Social Development spokesperson Judith Cochrane MLA criticised the minister for not making the announcement on the floor of the Assembly.
Sinn Féin MLA and chair of the Social Development Committee Alex Maskey said any review outcome "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."