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Major conference on social and affordable housing set for Newry

A major conference on Social and Affordable Housing, aimed at tackling the growing housing crisis in Newry is to be held in the city early next year.

A proposal to host the event, put to Newry Mourne and Down District Council by SDLP councillor Michael Savage, gained cross-party support at last Monday’s monthly council meeting.

The motion proposed by Councillor Savage is the first cross-party motion of its kind to be considered by Newry Mourne and Down District Council and was also signed by his party colleague Cllr Laura Devlin, Sinn Féin’s Cllr Charlie Casey and Cllr Willie Clarke, DUP councillor William Walker, UUP councillor David Taylor, Independent councillor David Hyland and Cllr Andrew McMurray on behalf of Alliance.

Discussing the motion, Councillor Savage said: “Building on successful Housing Symposium we held last January and the motion I proposed in April prioritising Social Housing in planning and the asset management review, which was unanimously supported in the chamber, we now aim to hold a major Social and Affordable Housing Conference in Newry in February.

“Given the scale of the problem in Newry and across the district we are hoping that the new Permanent Secretary for the Department for Communities will attend and we hope to have keynote speeches from the Chief Executive of the Housing Executive and the Council CEO and potentially look at workshop formats and group sessions to come up with potential solutions and explore how government departments and statutory bodies can collaborate better to deal with the housing crisis in this city and district.”

Councillor Savage said that a “perfect storm” of factors meant that Newry feels the impact of the social housing shortage more acutely than other areas in the North.

“Newry is unique in that it ticks literally every single box that you have for a challenge to getting social housing units built; from lack of sites, the topography and geography of the area, growing disabled need, a young population that needs housed and also one of the fasted growing older populations in the North.  So there’s mounting housing stock challenges and Newry is a perfect storm in relation to social and affordable housing need.”

Councillor Savage described having a home as a “fundamental right” and said that, because of the housing shortage, there’s now a generation of young people not being given the opportunity of having a place to call their own.

“Having a roof over your head is a fundamental need and on the basis of that fundamental need all aspects of a person’s life stabilises.  It breaks the natural order of things to still be living with your mum and dad well into your late 20s. It stymies personal development, it stymies independence and even things like home budgeting and managing finances responsibly,” he added.

“This is a huge challenge and it has to be taken seriously. I welcome the fact that all parties and all groups within the Council have come on board with this motion and backed me on it. As councillors we all see the pressures that are on the housing system in our city and district and we want to ensure that the Council plays a key role in facilitating dialogue that leads to solutions and citizens getting a social or affordable home of their own.  I hope now, that working with officials in the council, working the Housing Executive and Department for Communities and other key stakeholders we can pull together a meaningful conference that generates outcomes and strategy.

“We’re at the front-line dealing with Housing Executive staff, and the Housing Executive staff in Newry are exemplary, I can’t fault them at all. They go way above and beyond the call of duty to try and help people.”

The councillor commended the Housing Executive staff for doing an “impossible job” in a climate where there’s a drastic shortage of suitable housing stock particularly in Newry.

“The bottom line is that we don’t have the stock and they’re being asked to do an impossible job and I think that the Department of Communities have an obligation to come and play a lead role in this conference because they’re the department the oversees the Housing Executive and they need to hear at first hand the extent of the need in Newry and the district and step up to work with us all in providing collaborative solutions to the problem.

“They have an obligation to their staff and their management to be seen to be looking at collaborative ways in which we can make things happen to deal with housing. This conference is an opportunity for all the stakeholders to show their commitment trying to tackle the housing crisis in this city and hopefully some of the solutions can be replicated across the North.”