Motion no: 10
Conference notes that unions and the broader trade union movement, along with many public housing activists and campaigners have long agreed that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has been deliberately underfunded for more than two decades and that this has created what is now widely accepted as a public housing crisis. Conference also notes that a recent announcement about a wide-ranging social housing reform programme by the Department for Communities Minister has been hailed by most political parties as a panacea to resolve the housing crisis. It is acknowledged that there are some positive proposals contained in the Minister’s announcement, including efforts to tackle rogue landlords, provide greater security of tenure for those in the private rental sector, as well as proposing other changes to free up land for a reinvigorated house building programme. However the other proposals, including reclassifying the Housing Executive as some sort of mutual/not for profit/cooperative entity is not the answer. It is in fact a political decision to privatise public housing provision and Conference completely rejects that decision.
Conference notes that to predesignate the NIHE in this way would result in the NIHE becoming a private body, governed by an unaccountable Board, with minimal or reduced tenants’ rights, little or no accountability to or scrutiny by the Assembly or the Minister. The new Board would have the power to set its own rent levels for tenants, as well as make decisions around its own stock (homes), including the power of eviction, without challenge. This approach is clearly not the answer.
Conference agrees that if this suggested break-up of the Housing Executive is pursued it will see the destruction of the NIHE as a public housing authority. We also cannot ignore the history of division regarding housing provision here, being one of the major demands of the civil rights campaign, resulting in the establishment of the publicly accountable Housing Executive. The starting point in this debate should be a clear political commitment to retain the NIHE as a public housing authority and then find ways to facilitate borrowing and funding, to enable the Housing Executive to commence an ambitious building programme as well as undertaking much needed repairs and upgrades for its tenants. Dismantling the Housing Executive is not the answer.
Conference applauds NIPSA for the work they have done over more than a decade in keeping the retention of the NIHE as a major priority of the trade union movement and the whole community, supported by the commission of a number of important publications by Dr Stewart Smyth from the University of Birmingham, that sets out in detail the problems experienced by the NIHE over many years, including recommendations about how these problems could be remedied. Conference also notes the ongoing engagement with the DfC Minister and civil servants on the future plans and potential impact on staff.
Conference agrees that it is critical that when a decision on a proposed way forward is reached, that along with full protections of staff affected, that tenants’ democratic rights are fully protected and that they are given an opportunity to vote on proposals which will have such a major impact on their own futures and that of their families. The issues involved in the Social Housing Reform Programme obviously go beyond the important issues about protecting the staff, but reach across the entire community. Conference agrees that the Trade Union movement has an important role to play in joining with unions and other bone fide organisations and community and tenant groups in broadening this debate to ensure that the NIHE remains in public control and ownership and that public housing remains a right for all who need and seek it.
Conference calls for a campaign, led by the trade union movement, which secures the future of the NIHE as a publicly owned and accountable housing authority, protects the rights of staff, defeats any attempts to privatise that function and retains tenants’ rights to be fully consulted, including their right to a vote, before any decisions are taken about transferring to any new body or organisation.