03 May 2022
On 5th May, Northern Ireland goes to the polls to decide the make up of the next NI Assembly and Executive. Each party has published a manifesto ahead of polling day. On behalf of you, our members, below we have provided a synopsis of the parties’ stated commitments in relation to housing and homelessness over the next mandate. The information is by no means exhaustive, so we have included links to the manifestos for you to digest in more detail.
The UUP manifesto has kept its focus on housing high level. Support is reiterated for housing to be a specific outcome in the programme for government and there is a call for public sector land to be released for housing development. In regard to the £3.84bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, the UUP wants the next NI Executive to ring-fence Northern Ireland’s share of this fund. The manifesto calls for the reform of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and asks for upward of 9,500 private homes to be built over the next 15 years. In relation to housing infrastructure, mutualisation of NI Water is sought so the body can borrow private finance.
The TUV manifesto looks at the specific issue of maintenance and repair work within the social housing sector. Under the banner ‘proper housing for all’ the TUV has committed to supporting a reinvigorated direct labour organisation to help bolster trades and apprenticeships. The manifesto also commits to reforming the points system, alongside a specific mention of the need to extend homeless presentation beyond 28 days.
The Green Party manifesto is the only manifesto that refers to housing as a ‘human right’. Strains within the private rented sector is mentioned and the party calls for the introduction of rent controls, a landlord registration scheme, and longer tenancies to” strengthen tenants’ rights”. In relation to social housing, the manifesto asks for 2,500 new social homes to be built each year, an increase on the current completion rate. The need for the Housing Executive to borrow the funds it needs to build again is referenced, but whether this should be through the mutualisation of the Housing Executive is unspecified. In relation to housing support, the party asks for additional resources for Supporting People and support for the SmartMove NI model for private rentals.
The People Before Profit manifesto is calling for the establishment of a Rental Board which has a responsibility to maintain minimum accommodation standards via accommodation inspectors, secure tenancy leases, register agreed rents, and reduce existing rents to below 2011 levels. The party wants to see rent capped at 20 percent of a tenant’s income and leases to be offered for a minimum five-year period. The manifesto highlights the party’s opposition to plans to revitalise the Housing Executive citing concerns that borrowing rules could be circumvented and that there could be a lack of public control and accountability, however, it states that ‘lifting the restriction on borrowing imposed on the NIHE without privatisation’ is supported. In relation to homelessness, PBP says it would introduce a moratorium and ban on evictions that would result in homelessness as well as fiscal measures such as a land value tax or public sector equity holdings to encourage timely and appropriate development of new housing.
Sinn Féin, the party that most recently held the portfolio for housing, has reaffirmed much of the previous communities minister’s commitments in the last mandate, including plans to build over 100,000 homes over the next 15 years across urban and rural communities. The Sinn Féin manifesto calls for the revitalisation of the Housing Executive, which would transform the landlord arm of the authority into a mutual body allowing it to borrow private finance. The party has also stated that it wants to keep social rents the lowest across the UK and Ireland, put a ban on unfair letting fees, and introduce regulations to deliver fair rents including reducing or freezing rents. In addition, the party wants to bring forward further legislation into the private rented sector to increase standards.
Beginning with social housing, the SDLP commits to placing a legal requirement for councils to complete social housing planning applications within three months. The SDLP manifesto references the need to broaden financial options available for NIHE and housing associations, as well as explore the use of incentives to free-up land for affordable and social housing. The party reaffirms its commitment to a stand-alone housing outcome in the programme for government as well as the introduction of a duty of co-operation on government departments to tackle homelessness. The party also wants to work to lift the cap on local housing allowance to help with rental costs. The manifesto commits to strengthening measures provided under the Private Tenancies Act, including the introduction of rent controls, implementing legal minimum standards for housing fitness, reforms around grounds for eviction, developing a Landlord Licensing Scheme that includes a fit and proper person test, suitable management and financial arrangements and mandatory compliance with relevant legislation. It also commits to establishing an empty homes strategy.
The Alliance party manifesto begins with a commitment to prioritise the retrofitting of housing and work to legislate to allow the construction sector to build long-life, green projects. In relation to social and affordable housing, Alliance says it will place an emphasis on shared and mix-tenure developments as a means to building inclusive and sustainable communities. Other commitments of note include providing housing associations with the flexibility needed to provide community infrastructure in larger social housing developments. Switching to the private rented sector, Alliance states that it will introduce a regulatory mechanism for letting agencies and rent control schemes. It also commits to ensuring co-ownership limits reflect the market value. Finally, in regard to homelessness, the manifesto cites a commitment to an examination of the feasibility of a property possession fund to support households risking repossession. It also commits to raising awareness of the role discretionary housing payments for people at risk of eviction due to a reduction in housing benefit.
The first mention of housing within the DUP manifesto relates to the energy efficiency of both public and private housing, which will focus on retrofitting. This states that it should be funded by the windfall tax and rolled out as a priority in a new Executive. It also says that a package of measures to encourage greater efficiency in the home and to establish minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector will be considered. Within the manifesto, the party also commits to increasing the number of social and affordable homes. It proposes the need for radical reform of the Housing Executive by giving the body more powers to address the issue of vacant properties. It also points to the issue of needing to fix the problems with wastewater infrastructure as a means to deliver more affordable housing.