Contact: Mrs Sara Steele, Democratic Services Officer 90320202 x6301
Apologies were recorded on behalf of Councillors Cobain, Collins, de Faoite, Garrett, McCusker and McReynolds.
Declarations of Interest
No declarations of interest were reported.
Updates from Northern Ireland Housing Executive
The Chairperson welcomed to the meeting Mrs. J. Hawthorne (Belfast Regional Manager), Ms. F. McGrath (Head of Place Shaping Belfast) and Mr. B. O’Kane (Senior Principal Officer), representing the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE).
Mr. O’Kane provided Members with statistics regarding homelessness in Northern Ireland during 2019/2020, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic:
· 16,802 households presented as homeless last year (11,323 accepted);
· 36 rough sleepers were identified in the 2019/2020 street count;
· There were 4,527 temporary accommodation placements;
· 21,955 households were on the social housing waiting list as homeless;
· The top 3 reasons for presenting as homeless were accommodation not being reasonable, breakdown or family dispute, and loss of rented accommodation;
· 52% were single, 32% families, 12% older people and 4% were couples.
Mr. O’Kane explained that, since the outbreak of Covid-19, the number of homeless presentations had fallen while demand for temporary accommodation had increased. He added that young people had been disproportionately impacted and that the availability and throughput of temporary accommodation had reduced, necessitating an increase in the use of hotel and B&B accommodation.
The Members were advised that the aim of the NIHE Covid-19 response was to safeguard as many homeless people as possible from the virus, ensuring that they had the same opportunities as other vulnerable people to self-isolate, receive care, protection and treatment where possible. The key impacts on customers were identified as physical health, financial pressures, mental health, relationship breakdowns, reduced access to support and social isolation.
Mr. O’Kane then provided details of their ‘Everyone In’ approach to accommodate rough sleepers, including those with no recourse to public funds.
In terms of the NIHE response to date, the following elements were outlined:
- Increased supply of temporary accommodation;
- The lockdown of night shelters and day centres;
- Additional support provided and a shift made from in-reach to assertive outreach;
- Publication of ‘The Way Home’ Reset Plan;
- The appointment of a Coordinator and an Emergency Relief Panel;
- The ‘Everyone In’ approach;
- New arrangements for multi-agency consultation and collaboration.
Mr. O’Kane explained that their aim now was to prevent people returning to rough sleeping and to work to prevent the loss of homes in the private rented sector. He also noted that they were working to acquire additional temporary accommodation units with block bookings made in order to respond to emergency scenarios.
The Committee was provided with information on a Strategic Review which would remodel and reconfigure services whilst looking at the long term suitability of accommodation, private sector leasing and reducing reliance on non-standard accommodation (hotels and B&Bs).
In conclusion, Mr. O’Kane detailed the challenges moving forward, including securing the budget for the year ahead, anticipating demand, the rollout of vaccines and testing, and the next steps for the ‘Everyone In’ approach.
Mrs. Hawthorne noted the strain on staff, particularly those with young families, as a result of the ongoing working from home arrangements and the increased demand on services.
A Member commended the work of the staff and voiced his understanding of the issues they were facing. He then questioned what could be done to support new residents to an area, including asylum seekers, who might only come to the attention ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
The Committee was presented with an update report on the Social Housing Development Programme for Belfast during 2020/21, which included the following details:
· Units completed 2020/21; 255;
· Units under construction; 907; and
· Units programmed to start; 1636.
Ms. McGrath drew attention to a number of the larger schemes within the Development Programme, including Glenmona, Hannahstown, the St Gemma’s High School site, Brookfield Mill, Visteon Blacks Road and Upper Dunmurry Lane. The Members were advised that a draft programme for 2021/22 had been developed but would not be published until it received DfC Ministerial approval.
In terms of the City Centre, the Members were advised that:
- Work was ongoing with the developer at the Waterside/Sirocco site, however, development had slipped to a 2021/2022 start but discussions were scheduled regarding the delivery of shared housing under the Housing For All programme;
- NIHE was continuing to work with Castlebrook on the social housing units at the Tribecca site;
- The developer of a Titanic Quarter site had proposed 106 units of social housing, with a mixture of 1, 2 and 3 bed units, however no housing association had been appointed as yet.
A Member provided an example of a family in his constituency in a single let for 5 years with no offer of permanent accommodation, and questioned what advice could be given in this instance.
Ms. McGrath noted that there were a number of new schemes under development in the area and confirmed that they were aware of the high need. Ms. Hawthorne added that the same number of points could be considered high in some areas but low in others, and so she recommended that Members speak to the relevant NIHE Area Manager to find out what the allocations for an area were in order to have realistic conversations with their constituents and manage expectations. She also explained that often people were offered permanent housing but turned it down as it was not in the area that they were now established in.
A Member commented that there was still some fear from communities and families around moving to apartment living in the City Centre. She questioned whether a branding exercise was needed between the Council and the NIHE in order to make the move more appealing in terms of promoting green spaces, connectivity, regeneration, and the emerging availability of permanent housing.
Ms. McGrath agreed that, while it was common in other cities, it was not yet the norm in Belfast although an encouraging number of families had expressed an interest in living in the City Centre, similar in number to those on the general waiting list. She stated that, once schemes were ready for allocation, people would be able to see what was available and it might be appropriate to undertake some branding work at this stage. She also confirmed that housing would be provided to those with the highest points but it was too soon to know what the points level would be at this stage.
Another ... view the full minutes text for item 5.