The Lagan Valley area is facing a “social housing meltdown”, Ulster Unionist MLA Jenny Palmer has claimed.
Mrs Palmer issued the stark warning during a debate in the Assembly chamber at Stormont earlier this week.
Highlighting the large number of people in “housing stress” in the Lagan Valley constituency, the UUP Spokesperson on Infrastructure had a message for the Minister for Communities, Paul Givan.
“I would like to talk to the Minister as a fellow Lagan Valley representative. Minister, in our constituency there are 988 people in housing stress. There are 159 social houses being built in Lagan Valley. We must build more for the sake of those 829 people, and the many more across the Province.
“We have been given the figure of 22,654 households being in housing stress. That just shows how important housing is.”
Challenging the Minister directly, Mrs Palmer continued: “Minister, housing is a plural, and you have the opportunity to give a massive boost if you are bold and brave enough to embrace new solutions that support people and offer them a home.
“But I do not want to get fixated on figures; I just want to have a sensible debate about how we move forward and about the importance of delivering new solutions for housing in Northern Ireland.”
She added: “The Minister said that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive had the right and the power to build. Unfortunately, at the very beginning, the Housing Executive was funded fully from the public purse, and the decision was taken that the Housing Executive would not be able to avail itself of full housing funding.
“There is an opportunity here to split the Housing Executive into two entities. One would become one of the largest housing associations, de-shackled, along with the housing associations, as we move forward.
“Why not de-shackle the Housing Executive and allow it to bid like anyone else for the new build programme and reduce the housing association grant and make it more competitive for all developers to challenge to build new and affordable social housing?
“The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has a stock of 88,000 and, as one of the biggest commercial small business portfolios, would have the capacity to borrow on the strength of that if the shackles were removed to allow it to become an independent housing association as a charity, just like all the other housing associations.
“It is all in the detail, and it is for the Minister to solve that detail and to try to deliver far better housing for Northern Ireland.”