New-builds rise slightly - but homelessness still a problem

Homelessness in the north is rising, according to latest figures
Homelessness in the north is rising, according to latest figures

THE number of new homes registered in Northern Ireland in the final three months of last year stood at just 331, according to official figures out yesterday.

But in the following quarter some 5,040 households presented to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as homeless - up 687 (or 16 per cent) from the previous quarter - due in the main to relationship breakdowns or family disputes.

The figures are contained in the latest Northern Ireland Housing Bulletin published by the Department for Social Development, which contains statistics on homelessness, the residential property price index and new National House Building Council (NHBC)-registered sales and prices.

Of the 331 new-builds, most (44) were in the old Lisburn council area followed by Castlereagh (26), Craigavon (25) and then Belfast (23).

At the other end of the spectrum not a single new house was built in Moyle, while there were just two new-builds in Omagh and three each in Armagh and Carrickfergus.

The overall Northern Ireland average price of an NHBC-registered new dwellings for the quarter ending December was £149,900 (up slightly on the previous quarter (£149,000).

But this varied from a height of £199,000 in Belfast to a low of £103,700 in Limavady.

The number of property sales in the north is at its highest level since 2007 when it stood at 29,048.

The increase in one year from 2013 to 2014 is significant – up 24 per cent to 20,575 - which is seen as confirmation that the north's housing market is recovering, and is encouraging news for households in negative equity.

But Nicola McCrudden, director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Northern Ireland, said the statistics show a deepening divide in the housing market.

"Although the number of house sales is increasing year-on-year, we are also seeing growing levels of homelessness, with 19,621 households seeking help from the Housing Executive during 2014-15," she said.

“Most notable is the large increase in the number of homeless households who qualify for full assistance under the law, where rigorous criteria is applied to people’s circumstances. In 2014-15 this was 11,016 - up 14 per cent compared to the previous year.”

Ms McCrudden added: “The number of households who said losing rented accommodation was the reason for them becoming homeless has risen by 13 per cent over the same period. This is an indication that many private tenants are struggling to keep up with their rent.

"Welfare reform has had an impact on the private rented market – tenants who receive housing benefit are having to find more money to meet the shortfall between their benefit and the rent.

"And the shortage of new housing and barriers to home ownership means that more people are renting privately – and some landlords prefer to let to people who are not relying on housing benefit."