NIFHA is calling for a specific focus on housing as the countdown to the Northern Ireland Assembly elections begins
The pandemic has reinforced what many of us already knew: housing is a key foundation stone for society. With the next Northern Ireland Assembly election taking place in May 2022, the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA) has been working closely with several housing and construction bodies to call for a specific housing outcome in the next Programme for Government.
While the Northern Ireland Executive may not produce a full programme in advance, as purdah kicks in next March we believe it is an important point of principle to continue to call for this outcome. Indeed, the need has never been greater as the number of people in housing stress continues to rise across Northern Ireland.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, housing associations in Northern Ireland – like their counterparts in the rest of the UK and Ireland – have continued to provide good-quality homes and support to their residents and tenants. Our sector has been at the forefront of providing crucial services to some of the most vulnerable and keeping them safe, as well as helping them to feel connected within their local communities.
Specific housing call
So, what would we like the next programme to say? A specific housing outcome is crucial because a joined-up approach by government is required to ensure delivery across departments. This includes a co-ordinated approach to the release of public sector land for housing, where it meets urgent need. We also want to see multi-year budgets for the Social Housing Development Programme and how infrastructure investment is made. This will provide greater certainty for housing associations and the wider construction industry, which will make long-term planning easier.
“Our research shows that there is an economic multiplier effect of around £1 billion per year for the regional economy through the Social Housing Development Programme, when the impact on the wider supply chain is taken into account.”
In addition to the clear societal benefits from focusing on housing, there will also be an economic benefit to this. Our research shows that there is an economic multiplier effect of around £1 billion per year for the regional economy through the Social Housing Development Programme, when the impact on the wider supply chain is taken into account. There is also an economic return from the development of affordable and private house building, repair and maintenance, as well as through our community investment activity.
“We know that remote working and learning will continue to be a feature for the long term, so we must ensure that the homes provided enable this lifestyle shift.”
Community and wellbeing
Since the start of the pandemic, housing associations have shown their resilience and their key role as community anchors. Post-lockdowns, research shows that there can be significant mental health challenges for the population, emerging from what is undoubtedly a traumatic experience. There is an increased prevalence of people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We know that our sector will also be a cornerstone of our region’s recovery. The NI Executive has acknowledged this, which is welcome.
Provision of green space is a good example of the positive impact that can be achieved. Green space plays an important role in people’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as helping to address climate change. We also know that remote working and learning will continue to be a feature for the long term, so we must ensure that the homes provided enable this lifestyle shift. There are multiple pressures on NI Executive budgets, but good-quality homes with green space and remote working space are not optional extras.
Whatever the outcome of the next election, NIFHA and housing associations will continue to work with all political parties and all levels of government to build much-needed new homes, maintain existing ones and provide the crucial services to all those who live in them.