On the 21st May the Minister for Social Development announced plans to regenerate the Girdwood Barracks site in North Belfast.
North Belfast has seen some of the most acute and longstanding housing inequality in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s own research shows that 95% of the need for new social homes in North Belfast is among the Catholic community.
Nikita Geer is one of many people paying the price.
She currently lives in the Seven Towers in a two bedroom flat with a family member, her partner, her one year old daughter and an 8 week old baby. After two years on the waiting list she has not had a suitable offer of housing. She has been told that the mainly Catholic areas of North Belfast where she is on the waiting list are areas of ‘high demand’ and that she should consider moving elsewhere.
It shouldn’t be like this.
Legislation has existed since 1998 that requires public authorities like the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Department for Social Development to carry out their work on the basis of promoting equality and targeting objective need.
Under the law, this means that those in most need take priority.
The equality legislation we voted for in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement represented the promise of a better future – one where the rights and equality of those most often left on the sidelines would be given priority as a matter of law, not left to the whim of political decisions.
In 2011, the European Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, visited Belfast and said:
“The conditions I witnessed in the Seven Towers are only one illustration of a problem affecting, in particular members of the Catholic community, across north Belfast… The UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights directed the government to put in place a strategy to meaningfully address this in 2009 and I am disappointed that no action appears to have been taken in response to this.”
The Girdwood decision has already disadvantaged those in dire need of housing in North Belfast. However, such deals have implications for all of us in Northern Ireland, particularly the most vulnerable.
Find out more information about housing inequality here.
Click here to sign the petition to call on the Social Development Minister to build new social housing on the basis of need and inequality.