It's been a whirlwind two days for the Build Homes Now campaign.
Yesterday (Tuesday 1st March 2016), homeless families and those in chronic need from across Belfast were publicly backed by political parties (Sinn Féin, SDLP, Alliance, People Before Profit) supporting the Build Homes Now campaign at Stormont. The campaign is calling for an investigation into persisting unaddressed religious inequality and support for a potential 1,000 social homes on five windfall sites they have identified across the city.
Today (Wednesday 2nd March 2016) the Equality Commission have now officially joined both the Children and Young People's Commissioner and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in recognising the need to address persisting housing inequality affecting the Catholic community in North Belfast.
Reacting to the Equality Commission’s statement Nicola Browne from PPR said:
“This is a very welcome development. The draft ‘Statement on Key Inequalities in Housing and Communities in Northern Ireland’ marks the first time the Equality Commission has acknowledged housing inequality in North Belfast as an issue to be tackled. The first step in tackling any inequality is for it to be named. While some of the statistics used do not articulate the extent of the problem, we are glad the Equality Commission is joining the NI Human Rights Commission, the Children’s Commission, the Council of Europe and two United Nations bodies in recognising housing inequality in North Belfast as an issue to be tackled."
"The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and the NI Act which established both the Equality Commission and the equality legislation is clear – priority must be given to tackling inequality, as a basis on which to build good relations between all our communities. The litmus test will be the extent to which the Equality Commission now holds our government departments and public bodies to account for this obligation”
The Draft Statement explicitly backs the finding of PPR’s Equality Can’t Wait report in 2012 that compared to their share of applications Catholic household reference persons were allocated a lesser share of available social housing in North Belfast. It also noted that Protestant households in North Belfast were allocated over a tenth larger share of social housing compared to their share of applications, and that Catholic household reference persons had a lesser share of social housing tenure compared to Protestant household reference persons.
Fellow human rights organisations CAJ also welcomed the report. Daniel Holder of CAJ, stated:
“Whilst the report also references tackling segregation it is important to emphasise that the world over segregation is a symptom of housing inequality rather than its cause. Tackling the causes of inequality, whether rooted in discriminatory practices or intimidation, is the key to integration and better housing for all.”
According to the NIHE ‘Belfast Housing Investment Plan 2015 – 2019’ there were almost 12,000 people on the social housing waiting list in Belfast in 2015 and almost 7,000 in ‘housing stress’. Around 6,000 families presented as homeless and over 3,000 were accepted as such. To deal with this crisis the government built 542 social homes last year. The impact of the housing crisis on individuals and families is devastating.
John is a north Belfast man who lives in a homeless hostel separated from his daughter and grandson while they wait for an offer of a permanent home. He said:
‘"iving in a hostel is not safe or stable and it wears you down. The way we are separated at the minute is not right. If they were to build houses on these sites it would go a long way to bringing my broken up family back together."
Elinor, a west Belfast mother of two on the waiting list, said:
"I have been living in a two bedroom, fourth floor flat riddled with damp for 8 years. My son and daughter are teenagers and have to share a room together. My daughter’s taking seizures climbing the stairs with her asthma. I’m just told by the NIHE and CHOICE housing that I have no chance of a house in west Belfast because they aren’t building anywhere near enough. Our group has found the land and money and gathered up the support now we need actions by all MLAs and councillors.’"
The group’s campaign has to date been supported by:
- United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- United Nations Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing,
- Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner
- NI Children and Young People’ Commission
- Human Rights Commission
- Equality Commission
- 49 MLAs, including 5 Executive Ministers
- Northern Ireland Housing Executive Chief Executive
- Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations Chief Executive