Equality Can't Wait Campaign Visits the Minister

A group of over 30 mothers and children on the social housing waiting list in north Belfast visited the Department for Social Development on Monday 6th August, to deliver a petition asking for equality legislation to be implemented in NI’s social housing new build programme.

The petition, which gained over 1000 signatures in the greater New Lodge area and from countries as far away as Argentina, Italy and USA online, asks the Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland MLA, to ensure that housing is built and allocated on the basis of need and equality as promised under the Good Friday Agreement.

There are over 2400 people on the housing waiting list in north Belfast. Despite making up approximately 45% of the north Belfast population, Catholic families comprise almost 3/4 of those in housing stress on the waiting list. In 2008 the Northern Ireland Housing Executive projected that by 2012, 95% of the need for new build social housing in the area would be among the Catholic community. Recently announced plans for the Girdwood site ignore these realities, along with the equality commitments applying by law to public bodies, government departments and political representatives under the Good Friday Agreement.

Group member Marissa McMahon said: 

“We are just some of the families affected by the ongoing housing shortage and failure to build and allocate housing where it is most needed. There are countless others like us. We have tried in vain to find a suitable home through the NIHE. We have written letters, had meetings, been assessed and re-assessed.”

“Basically, we are being told that we want to live in an area of choice where there are limited social homes available.” 

“It is also not our fault if the Minister and the NIHE refuse to prioritise the building of social housing in the areas of most need. It is not our fault that we need to live close to our families and support networks. Every parent wants that for their kids.”

 “We would like to know why houses are not being built and allocated on the basis of need. Why are families forced to live in hostels and flats or at home with parents in cramped conditions? Why are families being denied equality?”

“We, and all of the other people in desperate need of a decent home, deserve better.”

Seán Brady, development worker with the PPR, which supports residents in campaigning for better conditions and equality in housing, said the action is another illustration of the human impact of the failure by consecutive Ministers and the NIHE to meaningfully tackle inequality.

“Despite equality legislation and legal requirements on Ministers and public bodies, the legacy of housing inequality in north Belfast remains unaddressed. Instead of grasping opportunities like Girdwood, political decisions are being arrived at which openly ignore the legal requirements of our peace agreement. That needs to change if the circumstances of families in most need of social housing in north Belfast and elsewhere are to change for the better.”

“Let’s be clear about this - it is not the case that there is no money available to address the long standing inequalities in housing in north Belfast and elsewhere. The reality is that money is being wasted and those in most need are not being prioritised.”

“Today’s action by mothers and children demonstrates the resolution of residents to hold anyone and everyone responsible for this continuing disgraceful, wasteful, and unacceptable situation to account.”

The group arrived at the Gasworks by bus and carried balloons displaying the message “Equality Can’t Wait” to DSD, where press gathered for photos and statements as the petitions were handed over.

The residents are asking Minister McCausland to provide a swift and positive response, followed up by action, to their message.

Show your support by signing the Equality Can't Wait petition here.

View the Equality Can't Wait campaign video here.