A report published today by human rights organisation, Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), authored by economist Paul Gosling, outlines that while an increase in social housing provision could be funded through a policy of promoting mixed tenure (social and private) developments, the main barrier to addressing the housing crisis is the lack of political action to make land available.

Mixed tenure housing schemes that include ‘affordable housing’ can generate higher rates of return than those available from social housing and therefore have the potential to attract investment through large pension funds, such as the Northern Ireland local government pension scheme.

The report notes that using current Executive targets for new social housing construction it would take 5 years to accommodate all existing people who are homeless (11,106 ‘households’ in 2015), 11 years to house people in housing stress (22,097) into appropriate accommodation and 20 years to satisfy the demand on the waiting list in general (39,338)

In the face of a growing housing crisis in Scotland, in 2013 the trade union, UNISON worked with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to develop proposals aimed at persuading the local government pension fund to invest in social housing. This was both seen as providing a competitive rate of return for pension funds and a practical way to promote socially responsible and sustainable investment.

Although circumstances are significantly different in NI than in Scotland, the report identifies that social housing new build programmes could be attractive to investors such as pension funds if the Executive promoted a model of mixed tenure developments through Housing Associations or indeed through a restructured Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

However the report also found that the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Association – the representative organisations for the sector - does not believe that finances are the major obstacles to addressing the housing crisis. Rather, they argue, the main barrier is the lack of suitable land with planning approval.

Paul Gosling, the report’s author said:

“There is a clear and undeniable need to increase the provision of social housing in Northern Ireland and it is very important to identify ways that this can be achieved.  While so-called ‘affordable housing’ options are not a substitute for lower cost social housing, this report suggests ways in which the supply of affordable housing could be increased through pension fund financing and as part of mixed tenure schemes.” 

“This could both increase the availability of homes in Northern Ireland and perhaps free up some social housing.  It is to be hoped that the Northern Ireland Executive will pursue the opportunities created for more mixed tenure housing developments that this report identifies.”

The report notes that investment in the remediation of polluted land would be needed to fully capitalise on the opportunities for new social housing by making it available for housing.

The report follows the 2015 report ‘Surrounded by Land But No Space for Housing?’  which was a response to arguments that there was not sufficient land available for social housing. Families, who were living in hostels or extremely poor housing identified and photo-mapped over 50 vacant and available sites across Belfast with the potential to provide for 2,000+ homes. The families have since been campaigning around five key sites in the Belfast area (Dunnes Stores/Hillview, Sirocco, Mackies, Mona by-pass and Belfast Harbour).

Seán Brady a PPR development worker supporting the families of the Equality Can’t Wait campaign said:

“This report provides vital information for the people with an interest in addressing homelessness and inequality. It identifies additional sources of finance and structural changes to greatly improve social housing provision. It demonstrates that a solution for the thousands of families on the waiting list is within the grasp of the Assembly Executive.”

Seán added:

“All parties made housing an electoral priority. Now that it has been confirmed that money is not the main obstacle, political action is needed. Decisions by elected representative about the future of the empty land in the city are being made every day at Council and the Assembly and housing needs to be a priority on the agenda in planning approvals, particularly in those in areas experiencing chronic high levels of homelessness and housing stress.”

“PPR and the Equality Can’t Wait families are willing to assist and support all parties in doing this. It is time for a genuine fresh start in housing policy or we risk facing further decades of homelessness and fire-fighting without solutions.” 

Download a copy of the report - Funding for New Social Housing: Research Paper on Public Authority Pension Funds as a Source of Finance for New Social Housing