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Affordability biggest barrier to vibrant housing market: Eileen Patterson CIH Northern Ireland chair

Affordability – both in the private housing and social housing sector – is now the biggest barrier to people being able to live in the homes of their choice – that was the message from Radius Housing Director of Communities Eileen Patterson as she took up the reins as the new Chair of the Northern Ireland Board of the Chartered Institute of Housing.

CIH is the professional body for those working in housing across the UK, and Eileen, who has over 30 years working in the sector here, said that the biggest challenge in housing in Northern Ireland is now affordability. She said:

“Across the public and private sector affordability is becoming the biggest barrier to people being able to choose the best type of housing for themselves and their families. Tightening access to mortgage credit means that rates of home ownership are declining, but there is no pick-up from the private rented sector which is becoming more expensive in some areas and short in supply in others. While there is an active new build programme for social housing, the undeniable fact is that social housing waiting lists continue to grow across Northern Ireland.

“Changes in welfare benefits present a double whammy for the social housing sector – it means that tenants in some cases may no longer be able to pay their rent, and it presents challenges to social housing providers because it changes the financial assumptions on which their current investment plans are based,” she added.

Eileen said that it is essential we find local solutions if we are to avert a housing crisis similar to that in other cities and regions across the UK and Ireland.

“Welfare reform mitigation needs to be extended to ensure that people can continue to meet their rental commitments and remain in their homes, the development of affordable homes needs to be increased and the level of capital investment in social housing should be increased so that rents can be maintained at affordable levels. While reforms of the planning system are well underway, delays are still impeding the development of housing, especially in areas of housing stress.”

“We also need to develop a strategic approach to tacking the housing crisis which should include housing professionals, financiers, developers, architects, planners and other experts. By working together we can ensure that housing takes centre stage in policy debates in Northern Ireland. For too long housing policy in many ways has been led by welfare policy and this cannot continue,” she added.

Eileen was speaking at the CIH’s NI board meeting which took place today in Belfast where she was appointed Chair and she will hold the post for the next three years.