Soaring need for social housing

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North Lurgan is in greatest need for social housing, according to the NI Housing Executive’s latest report, however, only 29 new builds were delivered in the whole Borough.

The report identifies the need for 150 units to cater for social housing in the North Lurgan area alone with the most popular locations identified as Taghnevan, Kilwilkie and Shankill.

And while the report says housing stress (those who are at the top of the waiting list) has decreased in Craigavon in the past year, there has been a rise in the number of older people facing housing stress with 22% of all applicants being elderly.

Lurgan has almost double the number of tenants claiming housing benefit - 1,920 in Lurgan/Brownlow and 1,102 in Portadown.

At March 2014, the Housing Executive owned 4,086 properties in Craigavon Borough, having sold 7,122 dwellings since the introduction of the House Sales Scheme; At March 2014, there were 1,835 applicants registered on the waiting list for social housing in Craigavon Borough; 646 (35.2%) were in housing stress.

“The gap between demand and supply within the borough’s social housing sector is widening and the impact of welfare reform proposals on waiting lists is being carefully monitored. We continue to review the requirement and availability of one bed properties and identify opportunities to increase supply through new build,” said the report.

• In Craigavon Borough, five new build schemes were completed during 2013/14, delivering 29 social housing units. At 31st March 2014, four schemes were on site in the borough, and three are planned to start during 2014/15 to provide 32 units;

In 2013/14, 48 disabled facilities and 63 repair grants were completed in Craigavon Borough;

• In 2013/14, NIHE completed maintenance to 956 dwellings, double glazing installation in 415 homes, kitchen replacements to 296, heating installations to 255 dwellings and the replacement of fire doors to 329 flats with communal access in Craigavon Borough;

• During 2013/14, the NIHE started five heating installation schemes to 462 dwellings and two smoke alarm replacement schemes to 108 homes;

• During 2014/15, the Housing Executive plans to start kitchen replacements to 289 homes, maintenance to 204 homes, double glazing installation to 398, install heating in 315 properties and smoke alarms in 95;

• The executive spent £328k on adaptations to stock in Craigavon Borough during 2013/14 and have a budget in the South Region of £2.77 million in 2014/15;

Craigavon has a lower proportion of social housing (13.1%) than the Northern Ireland figure of 14.9%.

DSD’s Northern Ireland Housing Bulletin reports 386 private sector new build starts in the borough in the year to September 2013. This represents an increase of 85% since last year. The bulletin also reports that 90 new build properties were sold in the borough during the year to September 2013.

Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association assists those on a low income to access the owner occupied sector, 97 properties were purchased through the scheme in Craigavon Borough in the past financial year.

Another route to low cost owner occupation has been the purchase of social housing by existing tenants. The number of house sales transactions has dropped noticeably in recent years with only 549 Housing Executive houses sold in Northern Ireland during 2013/14, 21 were in Lurgan/Brownlow district and nine in Portadown.

“There is, however, growing concern regarding how the ongoing changes to housing benefit will affect tenants and landlords in the short to medium term. The precise impact will be carefully monitored. Local estate agents have indicated that rents have increased beyond the Housing Allowance, resulting in housing benefit not covering the full charge,” said the report.

“The Local Housing Allowance for a three bed dwelling is £89.35 per week (as at April 2014). Private sector housing benefit claims have decreased very slightly over the past year but remain high. This indicates that owner occupation continues to remain inaccessible to many and that there is also a shortage in social housing.”

As of March 2014, 1,835 people applied to be on the HE waiting list. Of those 646 were in housing stress and 358 allocations were made.

Of the 754 who presented as homeless during 2013/14, 231 were awarded full status.

Last year Housing Associations in Craigavon started building 38 properties while the Housing Executive sold 30 properties at an average cost of £40,333 each, the highest number of properties sold in recent years.

Owner occupiers and landlords can access adaptations through the NIHE private sector grants scheme. During 2013/14 in Craigavon Borough the Executive approved 52 disabled facilities grants for the private sector and completed 48, spending £467k. The number of adaptations it can provide is subject to funding.

Rent arrears for the districts of Lurgan/Brownlow and Portadown at March 2014 were £243,095 and £175,441 respectively.