The Northern Ireland Assembly election is due to take place on Thursday May 5. In the run-up to the election, political parties putting forward candidates will be publishing their manifestos.
A manifesto is a document which sets out what policies a political party will seek to implement if their candidates are elected. We at Homeless Connect, working with our members, developed a manifesto which sets out ten policies we believe would make a real difference in preventing and reducing homelessness here.
As each party publishes their manifesto, we will be profiling their commitments in the areas our manifesto covers.
On 26 April, the SDLP released their manifesto. Some sections of note include the following:
Our Five Pledges to Put PEOPLE First: (p3)
“4. We will double the current level of investment in the Social Housing Development Programme to combat the shortage in social housing.”
Building Homes & Preventing Homelessness (p24)
“SDLP MLAs will support positive housing decisions and prioritise spending on social housing and new build programmes. Access to a good quality, secure and affordable home is a fundamental right and a foundation for individuals, families and communities to flourish. There are currently over 43,000 applicants on the Housing Executive waiting list, of which nearly 25,000 are identified as in housing stress.
The SDLP believes that a radical approach is needed immediately to tackle the shortage in social housing. We commit to doubling the amount invested by the Executive every year in the Social Housing Development Programme. The paltry current level of investment – slightly over 1% of the total Executive budget – is a shameful indictment of the failure of the Department for Communities to tackle the housing shortage.
- Prioritise social housing developments in the planning system – we will place a legal requirement for councils to complete social housing planning applications within three months and provide funding for additional staff as required.
- Broaden financial options available to NIHE and Housing Associations, on top of the expanded government investment, to accelerate their building programmes.
- Explore the use of incentives to free-up development land for affordable and social housing.
These new homes must be targeted within areas of greatest need. This will require a co-ordinated approach by the Department for Communities, Housing Executive, local councils & planning authorities who will work directly with social housing providers and housebuilders to tackle this endemic problem once and for all.
We will also prioritise the implementation of the review into the social housing allocation points system to ensure fairness. The SDLP will work to see the creation of more shared housing schemes, more mixed developments to include social, affordable and private homes and reform of common selection and regulation of the private rented sector.”
Homelessness Prevention (p25)
“The SDLP will support robust homelessness prevention proposals that take into account the soaring costs of living and post-pandemic landscape.
The SDLP will support the introduction of a standalone housing outcome within the Programme for Government, one which guarantees access to good quality, affordable and sustainable housing for all. We will introduce a duty of co-operation on Government departments to tackle homelessness and take a Housing First approach to chronic homelessness. It is vital that this policy area is informed by the cooperation with and expertise from people with lived experience of homelessness, in order to deliver effective and comprehensive services. We will expand affordable housing schemes which give more first time buyers the chance to own their own home…
Currently over 88% of Universal Credit claimants are facing shortfalls between their rent and the amount of housing costs they receive, on average £139 per month. We will work to lift the cap on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates to provide an added layer of protection for low-income households.
We will do more to support homeowners via the introduction of a Mortgage Rescue Scheme. The financial impact of COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of homeowners who were provided with minimal assistance and placed at greater risk of homelessness as a result…
Unreasonable accommodation remains among the top causes of homelessness with 3,576 households seeking suitable housing to meet their needs. The SDLP will ensure that applicants with disabilities are not set at a disadvantage when it comes to securing a property that restores their dignity and independence.”
Private Rented Sector
“The SDLP will progress work to strengthen measures provided under the Private Tenancies Act including the introduction of rent controls, implementing legal minimum standards for housing fitness, reforms around grounds for eviction, developing a Landlord Licensing Scheme that includes a fit and proper person test, suitable management and financial arrangements and mandatory compliance with relevant legislation.
We will establish a service for tenants to make complaints easily without resorting to the courts.”
Establish a new Empty Homes Strategy
“As of November 2021, there were 20,068 vacant domestic properties across Northern Ireland. These properties must be utilised or purchased by NIHE and Housing Associations and added to their stock. The SDLP will aim to explore the development of a grants scheme to encourage owners to renovate these properties to facilitate their sale/rent on the open market.”
Finance and Fiscal Powers (p29)
“The absence of an agreed Programme for Government and multi-year Budget has dogged the delivery of public services for too long.
In negotiations ahead of a new Executive, the SDLP will prioritise:
- An agreed three year Budget, matched to a new Programme for Government.”