Last week Carál Ní Chuilín Minister for Communities released the proposed Sinn Féin policy to restructure the Housing Executive to great fan fair. However, the proposals lack any real substance and, in some cases, have very worrying questions and repercussions. The absence of any real substance or plan to address the private sector was notable. The private sector is currently incredibly difficult for working class people and families to navigate. Rents in the private sector are increasingly creeping up and are well above the Universal Credit cap for housing benefit. Yet all tenants in the private sector are required to provide a guarantor, sometimes two even though they have a good credit rating, excellent references and the necessary deposit and first months rent. Letting Agents and landlords are enforcing their own criteria to pick and chose who they rent to at the expense of discriminating against a sizable portion of working class people who will not be in position to provide one guarantor let alone two. It is unclear exactly how the proposed separated ‘landlord’ component of the Housing Executive will be governed. If the aim is, as we believe to ensure that the Housing Executive is no longer regarded as a public body, does this mean that its board will not be fully public? Will the state retain ownership of its assets? What is more likely is that it be a form of privatisation via the back door. The only stated aim of separating the Housing Executive is to enable it to borrow without inflating public debt. Surely this is in stark contrast to committing to borrow vast sums of money through financial capital transactions loan schemes where money is funnelled to the private sector. The Minister expects the newly privatised Housing Executive to borrow money to pay off its current sizable debt and money to build new houses. The fact that a sizable amount of the current Housing Executive builds are in desperate need of refurbishing has also not been addressed by the Minsters plan and no doubt the Housing Executive will be forced to borrow even more funds to pay for this. In addition to this the responsibilities for repairs must fall back to the District Labour Office (DLO) and not be subcontracted out to private firms. There is also a continued reliance on schemes which subsidise home ownership at the expense of investment in social housing. Subsidising home ownership makes housing affordable in the short-term, but in the long-term it leads to inevitable private inflation and decreasing social housing stock. The document states that there will be little clarification until 2021/22. This is far too long to wait. The Workers’ Party would request immediate clarification on • How this new cooperative will be governed and if there will be a guarantee that its control and assets will be wholly publicly controlled. • Why are we using the FC Transactions loans which funnel loans to private sector capital projects, but not willing to take on our own public loans.Breaking up the executive to have a new ‘landlord’ component which we have no idea as to how that will be governed is nothing more than an empty vehicle for channelling loans to private companies as part of PPP. The Minster and Sinn Féin may try to dress these proposals up as much as they like but they fall far short of addressing the growing housing crisis in the north and have made no commitment to provide any public money to build new social housing. They would rather pass the buck and privatise through the back door. The Workers’ Party reaffirms their commitment to a public-sector Housing Executive as the only answer to ensuring the 30,000 families on the waiting list and those forced into private renting are housed and protected.
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