The CIH and Homeless Connect said the proposed spending will mean missing annual social housing delivery targets
Proposed department budget cuts in Northern Ireland could impede the delivery of social homes and have ‘severe consequences’ for vulnerable members of society, housing bodies have warned.
In a letter to the nation’s Department of Finance (DoF), the Chartered Institute of Housing and Homeless Connect, which represents organisations providing homelessness services, claimed that 450 fewer social homes are likely to be delivered this year due to the proposed budget.
Northern Ireland’s Stormont Executive looks set to return after two years of suspension after the announcement on Wednesday of measures to restore power-sharing, including the removal of routine checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland that are destined to remain in NI.
The letter, written by the two bodies and endorsed by 15 housing organisations in Northern Ireland, was sent to Neil Gibson, permanent secretary at the DoF, pending the appointment of a new minister for communities to the revived executive.
It claims that the budget for the current fiscal year is “inadequate”, and projects that it will result in starts on fewer than 1,500 social homes, well below Stormont’s target to build 1,950 social homes per year.
The housing bodies note that this also falls short of the “ambitious objective” outlined in the draft housing supply strategy, which aims to build an average of 2,200 homes annually.
The letter highlights that the allocation of capital based on a baseline established by the previous executive may not take into account current challenges, such as double-digit inflation in the construction industry.
Last year, in the absence of an Executive, Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris allocated the Department for Communities a budget of £861m, amounting to a 15.5% reduction in day-to-day spending.
The housing groups highlighted that against this backdrop, there are currently 45,615 households on the social housing waiting list in Northern Ireland as of September 2023.
The number of households with homelessness status stands at 27,566, which represents an increase of 122% over the last decade.
The letter said: “As leaders of organisations representing housing and homelessness interests, we believe that any proposed reductions in the budget could have severe consequences for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
”Our primary worry is that these cuts may undermine the progress towards promoting health and wellbeing and would hinder DfC in achieving its strategic objectives.”
In 2022, the CIH sent a letter to Dr Jayne Brady, the head of the civil service, regarding the absence of a standalone housing outcome in the Programme for Government (PFG) Draft Outcomes Framework, which it described as a significant factor influencing strategic funding decisions.
In Brady’s response, she stated that the need for a standalone outcome was acknowledged in the ‘new decade, new approach’ agreement which was drawn up in 2020.
Justin Cartwright, CIH national director for Northern Ireland, said: “We are deeply troubled by the potential budget cuts looming over housing.
“The proposed cuts to the capital budget are particularly alarming, as they threaten to impede the construction of much-needed social housing at a time when the demand has reached unprecedented levels.
”The construction of new social homes is not merely a statistic; it is a lifeline for thousands of vulnerable individuals and families facing housing stress.
“Beyond the immediate humanitarian concerns, there are broader economic ramifications to consider. Investment in social housing has consistently demonstrated a powerful multiplier effect on the economy, creating jobs, stimulating local businesses, and contributing to overall economic prosperity.”
Nicola McCrudden, chief executive of Homeless Connect, said: “As the representative body for the homelessness sector, we are very concerned about potential budget cuts for homelessness and supporting people services.
”Over the last decade, the number of households with homelessness status has more than doubled to reach over 27,500. The need for temporary accommodation is the highest I can recall and is increasing month on month.
”The pressure on the system cannot continue and we fear for the consequences if funding for housing and homelessness isn’t given the priority it needs.”
|List of the letter’s co-signatories
|Apex Housing Association
|Ark Housing Association
|Grove Community Housing Association
|Newington Housing Association
|Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations
|Rural Housing Association
|St. Matthew’s Housing Association
|Woodvale and Shankill Community Housing Association