Monday, 24 February 2014

North Belfast housing need (3)

Question time at Stormont
Today I had Oral Questions in the Assembly and the first question, from Sinn Fein MLA Raymond McCartney, was not about his own constituency of Foyle but about social housing in North Belfast.  He asked: 'The minister for Social Development to outline the analysis used to reach a determination of equal Unionist and Nationalist housing need in north Belfast.'
For many years nationalist and republican politicians have claimed that the social housing waiting list in North Belfast is overwhelmingly nationalist and Roman Catholic.  That became the nationalist narrative about housing need and was repeated so often that it came to be accepted more generally, by journalists, academics and commentators.
One part of the narrative was that there was a young and growing Roman Catholic population in North Belfast and the other part of the narrative was that the Protestant community was older and declining.  As a result, according to the nationalist narrative, the social housing waiting list was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.  But is that narrative true?
Well Sinn Fein got their answer and here it is:
I have stated a number of times now that the need in both communities in the North Belfast Constituency is roughly the same.  This is not my view or interpretation of the figures, it's the facts that speak for themselves.
The figures are the Northern Ireland Housing Executive's and are based on housing waiting list figures for the North Belfast Assembly and Parliamentary constituency.  They are the Housing Executive's totals for the number of applicants for social housing and transfer applicants who self-identified as either Protestant or Roman Catholic within each Common Landlord Area in the constituency.  The latest figures I have received from the Housing Executive, from 31st December 2013, again speak for themselves with 1,994 Protestants and 1,988 Roman Catholics on the waiting list in the North Belfast Constituency.
Previously, I had quoted the figures from September  2013 and they were 2059 Protestants and 1,986 Roman Catholics but we now have the most up-to-date figures available.
There are fluctuations from day to day and month to month but the general pattern is that the number of Protestants on the waiting list in North Belfast and the number of Roman Catholics on the waiting list are roughly the same.
The reaction from nationalist politicians and the supplementary question from SDLP MLA Alban Maginness demonstrated that they had not accepted the facts.  The nationalist narrative is so deeply embedded in the minds of nationalists that they find it very difficult to accept the facts, even those provided by the Housing Executive. 
The claim that the waiting list is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic is untrue but it has become almost an article of faith for nationalists.  The only answer then is to keep repeating the facts and challenging the myths.
I also had the opportunity today to explain how nationalists were able to manufacture their myth about social housing and here is the explanation.  The North Belfast Constituency covers all or part of four Housing Executive districts - Shankill, North Belfast, Newtownabbey 1 and Newtownabbey 2.  One of these districts is more nationalist than unionist whereas the others are more unionist than nationalist.  Nationalists however simply took the figures for one of those areas, the one that is most nationalist, and ignored the figures for the areas that are most unionist! 

For example, in the case of Rathcoole CLA there are 432 people on the waiting list and of these 222 are in housing stress but that need was simply ignored by nationalists.  Nevertheless that figure shows just how much new social housing is needed and I am glad to say that more new social housing is programmed for Rathcoole.
I will return to this in future posts because the issue is very complex and is best dealt with in bite-sized chunks.  Today's chunk is the basic fact that the waiting list for Protestants and the waiting list for Roman Catholics is roughly the same.
Meanwhile another Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann asked a written question about social housing in the Lower Oldpark area.  He asked: 'The Minister for Social Development to detail how the refurbished houses in the Lower Oldpark were allocated, including whether they were allocated to people within the area by transfer or allocated from the housing waiting list.'
My answer to this was:
Clanmil Housing Association, who own the properties in question, has advised that properties continue to be allocated in accordance with the Housing Selection Scheme.  They have handed over five properties in Manor Court and four in Mountview Street.  These nine properties have been allocated to applicants whose area of choice was the Lower Oldpark area; this includes one transfer.
This is the first stage in the regeneration of Lower Oldpark and I was delighted to be able to report that houses which had previously been derelict were now fully refurbished and occupied.  Clanmil can now move on to the next phase of the refurbishment programme.  Alongside this the Housing Executive have programmed a number of new build social houses for a vacant site below Century Street.  This shows that a community such as Lower Oldpark, which was neglected for so many years, can have a bright future, with a growing population and good quality houses.

Lower Oldpark is one of the six areas selected for the new Building Successful Communities programme and in this case it is off to a good start.  No longer will people be condemned to living amongst dereliction and decline.  That is simply unacceptable.


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