The North needs Social Housing too

By Shaun Harkin, People Before Profit, Derry

Socialist Worker

Access to housing was a key demand of the civil rights movement in the North during the 1960s leading to the creation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in 1971.

 Prior to the founding of the NIHE, housing provision was decided upon by local councils. 

This resulted in widespread discrimation of Catholics in housing allocation, but also in housing provision more generally, by the Unionists holding political control of councils and the Stormont government.

Eamonn McCann says the creation of the housing executive “was one of the great achievements of the civil rights movement. 

The building of public sector housing had come to a virtual standstill. In many council areas there was unfair allocation of the homes which were being built. Complaints fell on stone-deaf ears.

The grievance simmered and eventually boiled over and splurged onto the streets.


It was this which delivered the Housing Executive, taking control away from local councils and an ineffectual Housing Trust and bringing forward a points system for allocation.”

Today, social housing has once again emerged as a crisis in the North with nearly 40,000 people on waiting lists. Of them, more than 20,000 are in housing stress and more than 12,000 are deemed statutorily homeless. The Northern Ireland Audit Office reported the number of homeless people in the North increased by 32% between 2012-17 at a cost of £300 million going to private renters.

Fifty years ago the blatant sectarianism of the Unionist Orange state was responsibility for housing inequality. 

Today, following two decades of powersharing between unionism and nationalism, privitasation and the lack of investment in social housing is primarily responsible. In 1991 the NIHE still had responsibility for 170,000 social housing units but the number is down to 92,000 today as a consequence of the Thatcher initiated ‘right to buy’ scheme. 

The Stormont Assembly has blocked the NIHE’s ability to borrow funding to build new homes and renovate existing stock in favour of housing associations. 

Housing associations depend on private funding for house building leading to higher rents for tenants and open a backdoor to privatisation.

People Before Profit demand an end to the running down of the NIHE and the opening up of investment to fund a crash programme of sociat housing building. 

Housing is one of the key civil rights issues for all working class communities across the North. Like defending the NHS and other public services, a people powered movement will be key to ending the housing crisis.

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