It was the SDLP in the 1970s that insisted that housing should be taken away from local authorities who had proved unfit to discharge their responsibilities. Local Government was reformed and responsibility for housing was vested in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Those reforms put an end to discrimination in housing. The SDLP has been at the forefront of many other housing reforms since then.
Today we are experiencing yet another housing crisis. Decades of underinvestment by successive Direct Rule regimes has left us with a depleted housing stock, record long waiting lists and high levels of housing stress and homelessness. In addition the global economic downturn has made it difficult for people to get on to the housing ladder.
In February 2008 SDLP Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie launched the New Housing Agenda, which was the first comprehensive housing policy initiative in a generation.
The New Housing Agenda includes a significant increase in new build social housing; an expansion of co-ownership and equity-sharing to help more people onto the housing ladder; introduction of a developer contribution; investment in 'priority' areas of substandard housing (eg The Village in South Belfast) higher sustainability standards in social housing; proper regulation of the private rented sector; and improving energy efficiency in the home to take more and more people out of fuel poverty.
Less than two years into the New Housing Agenda there have been some notable achievements. More social housing has been built and record support for co-ownership has been provided. When serving as Minister of Social Development, Margaret Ritchie also delivered a once-off fuel poverty payment of £150 to 167,000 of the North's most vulnerable households.
All of this was delivered against a major budget shortfall. The Minister has succeeded in bringing more private sector investment into the provision of social housing and she was highly innovative in stretching the resources she had available in order to maximise delivery. She also battled successfully to secure more money for housing in various budget negotiations, and this was continued under the stewardship of Alex Attwood when he assumed the ministry. However there is still a major challenge ahead in getting the resources needed to deliver the SDLP Housing Vision - A Decent Home for Everyone.