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Families campaigning for homes have called for a meeting with the Board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive today (Wednesday 28th October 2015). 

The Equality Can’t Wait housing group which includes families in chronic need of housing across Belfast, victims of racist attacks, refugees and asylum seekers and members of the Traveller community, has requested a meeting with the NIHE Board following a failure by the organisation to tackle the growing housing crisis and progress their cases. Click here to read 'Surrounded by land but no space for housing?' report.

Many of those involved have been forced to live on a permanent basis in hostels, single lets or other unsuitable ‘temporary’ accommodation for years. Over 120 families have now resorted to challenging the NIHE and the Minister for Social Development in writing with the support of the campaign. More families delivered letters and photographic evidence to the NIHE board meeting at Adelaide Street today explaining how the inaction of the NIHE is failing their families and thousands of others in areas of greatest need.

As a result of the human rights letters which were written AFTER residents had been told by housing providers that nothing more could be done in their cases, 82 families had repairs carried out to their homes which had been overdue for years and nearly fifty were rehoused into more appropriate accommodation. Almost all of them had their housing status more accurately recognised by the NIHE's points system.

These reactions from housing providers would not have occurred without the hard work of families already struggling to manage their dire housing circumstances, which directly challenged successive Minister’s and NIHE Chief Executive’s, through robust evidence gathering and campaigning. The group say their experiences expose much greater structural failings within the housing system which need addressed.

Seán Brady, Local Development Worker with PPR said;

“Residents and International experts have identified practical solutions to build and allocate homes based on need. They’ve developed a Homeless Action Charter to ensure people’s needs are central to how housing authorities do business. They have identified five large windfall sites which could be used to eradicate the homeless problem in Belfast. Yet, instead of working with residents to end homelessness and inequality, the Housing Executive has now started to disengage, by ignoring and denying residents reported problems and delaying their access to remedies. This is not acceptable. It is long past time that the Housing Executive Board took action.”

The action follows the intervention earlier this month of United Nations expert Maria Virginia Brás Gomez, who toured the windfall sites in north and west Belfast which could be used to tackle the housing crisis. Ms Gomez is the most recent international expert to draw attention to the ongoing crisis. In 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik issued a report which called for “concerted efforts” to be made to tackle inequality in housing. In 2012, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg expressed “disappointment” that no action had been taken to address concerns made by a UN Committee in 2009 which drew attention to “the chronic shortage of housing'

These concerns have also been echoed by both the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in the last few months.

Adam, who was recently made homeless with his daughter Amira following racist attacks on their home in east Belfast is now living in costly ‘temporary’ private landlord accommodation in west Belfast sourced by the homeless support unit. He said;

Despite everything we have come through my friends and I are still homeless and living in temporary accommodation because the Housing Executive won’t give us ‘intimidation points’ to get rehoused.”

Nichola, a member of the group and a mother of two on the waiting list said:

“We are fed up with being passed from pillar to post as we try to raise our families in safe, happy and comfortable surroundings. A lot more practical work needs done by people who are willing to treat us like human beings and listen to our needs. Hopefully the powers that be will listen to our plan of action and sit up and do something for us to build homes on the available land we have identified. Happy homes make for happy people and more importantly happy children who are our future.”