Activists from Equality Can’t Wait and Homeless Action put their human rights campaigns on the housing Chief Executive’s agenda.

On Tuesday 14th October 2014, 15 housing activists from the Equality Can’t Wait and Homeless Action campaigns held a positive first meeting with Ms. Mags Lightbody, Chief Executive of the NI Housing Executive.

Since taking up the post in April Ms Lightbody, along with the Minister for Social Development, has been presented with dozens of cases chronicling how the Housing Executive is failing to meet its human rights obligations towards individuals and families living in unacceptable housing conditions or experiencing homelessness.

Members of both Equality Can’t Wait and Homeless Action have been monitoring how the Housing Executive responds to these cases and have campaigned successfully to rehouse over 70 people as part of their broader housing rights campaigning.

During the meeting residents described how their individual circumstances evidenced greater systemic flaws in social housing provision, which require changes from the top down. To highlight the need for urgent changes, issues ranging from chronic damp and mould, unaffordable heating systems and unsafe balconies, to forgotten families and misassessed homeless cases were presented.

Commitment to work with groups to tackle longstanding issues

After hearing presentations from both campaigns, and the stories of families behind them, the new Chief Executive told the group that she recognised that changes are needed to ensure Housing Executive tenants and people facing homelessness were guaranteed a safe, secure and happy home.

Ms Lightbody agreed to provide full written responses to campaign requests for a strategy to tackle religious inequality in north Belfast and the Homeless Action Charter, which she described as “common sense”. The steps called for in the Homeless Action Charter include the creation of individual ‘Support Pathways’, an overhaul of how assessments are carried out and the ringfencing of social housing for areas of need in order to end homelessness.

The groups presented a further batch of evidence packs from families enduring ongoing desperate situations waiting to be housed in appropriate accommodation. Individuals and families involved in both campaigns will continue to present their cases directly to the offices of the Chief Executive and the Minister for Social Development, and monitor responses.

Ms Lightbody was thankful for the ‘on the ground’ insight from the groups and requested that they consider working more closely with her office to improve Housing Executive services.

Homeless Action group member Francine McComb was allocated a house in September after spending almost 30 months in hostel accommodation with her young daughter. Following the meeting she is expectant that the changes talked about will be put in to action:

"I'm pleased with Ms Lightbody's response on tackling the ongoing problems within the Housing Executive. She has acknowledged that everyone deserves a decent home, but the service is poor and major change is needed. Personally, I've seen big differences recently in how I've been treated. Hopefully bigger changes will now follow to bring an end to cases like mine."

Equality Can’t wait group member, Karen Donnelly, also a north Belfast mother and grandmother in dire need of a home fit for purpose, hoped the meeting would lead to results on the ground for the families who need them.

She said:

‘Ms Lightbody said the aim of the organisation under her new leadership is to help us tenants find a safe, secure and happy environment to call home. Unfortunately as my story and the stories of the many others involved in this campaign prove, these aims are currently failing for our families.

I hope the necessary changes are made to existing Housing Executive policy, procedures and practices so that families like mine no longer have to suffer with poor and unhealthy housing and never ending waiting lists.’