The Workers Party has welcomed the main recommendations of the recently released report of the Independent Commission on the Future for Housing in Northern Ireland .The report argues that the government and statutory bodies can help to achieve greater cohesion between people with different religious beliefs and different income and calls on the government to publish an annual statement of progress on integration across a range of indicators including religious mix and tenure/income mix.
At a meeting of the Workers’ Party Northern Region, spokesperson John Lowry has commended the philosophy underlying the report. “The report calls”, he continued, “on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and other housing bodies to undertake shared housing projects not least on ‘neutral’ sites, and those vacated by public bodies, including the Ministry of Defence and the PSNI. We can think of no better use for public land than the development of non sectarian housing developments. Northern Ireland has had quite enough of so-called luxury flats and trophy buildings. What we need now is a building policy that puts ‘ordinary people’ first.”
“Also, central to this report is the idea that planners and funders should recognise the importance of mixed income/ mixed tenure housing. As things stand half of all children who live in households in receipt of Income Support are concentrated in just 16% of local government wards in Northern Ireland. The geographical concentration of low income and poverty leads to a feeling of hopelessness on the part of many people and allows those lucky enough not to be poor to turn a blind eye to what they think is not their problem. Communities need to be socially mixed as much as they need to be religiously integrated.”
“Throughout the Troubles the housing estates became more segregated but it is sadly true that since the ceasefires there has been little growth in unsegregated public housing. 90% of public housing in Northern Ireland is segregated along religious lines and research shows that there was no change in this between 1991 and 2001. From our Socialist anti-sectarian perspective this is a tragedy. With this in mind, we must give praise and support to the Housing Executive and Department for Social Development, which through their Shared Neighbourhood Programme are in the process of building 30 mixed housing areas . When complete this will cover 22,500 households, comprising almost 70,000 people. This is a great step forward but it’s only the start. The kind of change envisaged in the future of housing report would make shared housing the norm rather than the exception. The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey in 2008 found that 80% of people would prefer to live in a mixed-religion neighbourhood. It is to be hoped that public representatives in Stormont and Local Councils will listen and begin to implement the proposals set out in this report.”