Housing demand set to increase

MAJOR changes to Housing Benefit could increase demand for social housing, according to a report published recently by the Housing Executive.

The Housing Executive’s Head of Research, Joe Frey said £250 million was paid to landlords and tenants on low incomes last year.

“However, major changes announced by the Government in its budget last year to the Local Housing Allowance within the Housing Benefit system could mean that many people may no longer be able to access affordable homes in the private rented sector,”he explained.

“The changes are due to be introduced between 2011 and 2013.

“Given the ongoing difficulties faced by first time buyers, particularly in the current economic situation, and the rising need for social housing, private renting plays a significant role in addressing the needs of lower income families. It is therefore important that proposed changes are considered in the context of the housing market as a whole.”

Mr Frey said, “The Housing Market Review and Perspectives report also highlighted the problems of affordability.

“Although house prices have returned to more sustainable levels, ongoing difficulties in obtaining mortgage finance, the requirement to pay substantial deposits, the number of people with debt problems and negative equity mean that affordability remains an issue.

“Northern Ireland’s construction sector has shrunk significantly over the past three years and the ongoing economic uncertainty will mean that the number of new homes constructed will remain low. We need to find ways to protect and re-vitalise an already fragile construction industry.

“Given the very challenging economic climate there will continue to be a very substantial demand for social housing. We have emphasised the contribution that new social housing makes to Northern Ireland’s economy.

“This year the housing associations with government funding will start over 2,000 new homes. Although these are the best figures for many years the latest analysis indicates 2,500 new social homes are needed each year to meet ongoing need and address the substantial backlog which has arisen since 2001.

“There has been a steady rise in the number of older people, with a rapid growth in the number aged 75 or more. This has important implications for not only the design of homes but also the housing support funding and care packages needed to help them live independently in their homes.

“While it is accepted that housing will not escape the inevitable reductions in financial support from Government, there remains an ongoing demand for building new homes, maintaining and improving the current ones, and keeping, all our homes warm and secure.”