THE axe is about to fall on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in a major re-structuring move by the Department of Social Development.
Plans to scrap the body, which has existed for 40 years, were announced at Stormont by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.
The plans were first revealed on Tuesday by the online investigation company The Detail.
Minister McCausland said it was “no longer sustainable or made the best use of public money”.
Mr McCausland is proposing major reforms, including a new regional housing body.
The HE is one of Northern Ireland’s largest public bodies.
It employs around 3,000 staff and looks after some 90,000 homes across the province.
A review was carried out in 2011 and the general consensus was that the “do nothing option was not a realistic solution”, Mr McCausland said.
Under the changes, the houses are likely to be transferred to five local housing associations.
Mr McCausland said: “My proposals set out the strategic direction for the way social housing will be delivered which will be fit for the 21st century.
“These proposals not only build on the success of the past, but create structures that will ensure social housing delivery is on a sound basis to build for the future.”
The SDLP’s Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, criticised the minister for the way he made the announcement.
“The demolition of the Housing Executive, which is the symbol of the one great progressive move in dealing with the north’s pitiful legacy of political housing, is bad enough,” he said.
“To use welfare reform as the smokescreen for hacking away at this body was a sign of the minister’s dual wedding to both a vicious Tory cuts agenda and a determination to re-politicising housing allocations.
“But for the minister to announce it without the chance for MLAs to properly interrogate the decision is an act of rank cowardice.”
However, the announcement has been welcomed by the Cameron Watt, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA).
“Today’s announcement is good news for tenants, taxpayers and people in housing need in Northern Ireland.
“The Northern Ireland Housing Executive deserves great credit for its achievements over the last forty years. It has made huge progress in providing good homes, regenerating communities and ending discrimination in social housing. Our members value and are proud of our successful partnership with the Housing Executive, for example in developing new homes and delivering Supporting People services.
“But times change and new structures are needed to guarantee high quality social housing in future, not least to secure private investment to refurbish the Executive’s 90,000 homes and to build new social homes.
“There is a shortfall in funding of over £1 Billion that has to be filled to bring existing Housing Executive homes up to a good standard.
“That’s why we welcome confirmation that the new landlord function for the Housing Executive housing stock will be out with the public sector.
“We expect the new landlord function will be in the housing association movement, building on the success of existing associations. These are thriving social businesses that have already secured £500 million of private investment in social housing.
“NIFHA believes there is a compelling case for independent regulation of rented housing in Northern Ireland, as recently introduced in Scotland and England. This would provide most reassurance for tenants and certainty for landlords, and we’ll continue to make this case ahead of the housing bill.
“We congratulate the Minister, Department and Northern Ireland Executive on this significant step in making the necessary reforms to our housing system, and look forward to working with them in the coming months as detailed proposals are developed.”
Last October, the Minister announced that the new chairman a Donald Hoodless.
Mr McCausland has also appointed Professor Peter Roberts from Huddersfield as the Executive’s vice-chairman.
Mr Hoodless was formerly chief executive of Notting Hill Housing Trust.
The previous Executive chairman, Brian Rowntree, quit before his term of office was due to expire.
In an email to its 3,000 staff, Mr Rowntree wrote of “personal stress” and “a challenging relationship” with the Department for Social Development.
He left in advance of a Public Accounts Committee report which revealed there had been “serious weaknesses” in the management of Housing Executive contracts worth more than £200m.
It also said the housing body was exposed to fraud because of major problems in the oversight of work carried out by contractors. Some of the claims related to its former contractor Red Sky.
The new appointments will be seen as key to pushing through reforms at the Housing Executive which owns and maintains around 90,000 publicly-owned houses in Northern Ireland.