SDLP Communities Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has called for urgent action from Sinn Féin Minister Deirdre Hargey to prepare for the end of temporary housing protections measures introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.
His call follows significant discrepancies identified in the causes of homelessness within the past two years.
In response to an Assembly Question submitted by Mr Durkan, the Department for Communities highlighted that increasing numbers of homelessness cases were as a result of fleeing domestic violence.
The figures also showed a dramatic fall in homelessness caused by loss of rented accommodation from 2,327 in 2019/20 to 1,869 in 2020/21 which can be attributed to emergency Covid-19 legislation introduced to extend the notice to quit periods landlords must give tenants from 4 weeks to 12 weeks.
The Foyle MLA commented:
“The Covid pandemic has impacted all areas of policy including health, education and the economy. However, that impact is particularly stark when viewed through the lens of housing and causes of homelessness.
“The immediate threats posed by the pandemic demanded emergency protections to ensure people had a roof over their heads. Those measures were very welcome and from the massive decline in the numbers of households made homeless through loss of accommodation, we can see that the extension of the notice to quit period worked well. This further underscores the importance of extending the 12-week period under the Private Tenancies Bill as an additional safeguard for private tenants in a post-pandemic landscape.
“Loss of accommodation through repossessions has remained relatively low thanks to the introduction of mortgage payment holidays. However, as this provision comes to an end I have concerns that the legislative gap will result in an increased number of homeowners losing their homes in the months ahead. Myself and others have warned of this inevitability and called on Minister Hargey to act to improve mortgage support. She has failed to act and that neglect I fear will see an increase in homelessness figures.
“Sadly, the numbers of families made homeless fleeing from domestic violence has risen by a third since 2018. These figures are not only shameful, they are heart-breaking and demand action at all levels. We know that statistically the majority of those victims will be women - they should never be placed in a position whereby the are forced to stay with their abuser or face homelessness.
“Unreasonable accommodation remains among the top causes of homelessness with 3,576 households seeking housing to suit their needs. That will be inclusive of many applicants with disabilities, who once again are set at a disadvantage when it comes to securing a property that restores their dignity and independence.
“What is clear from the myriad of issues highlighted within these figures, is that vulnerable groups are at greatest risk of homelessness. In the absence of a robust post-pandemic housing framework, that outlook is likely to worsen. The Minister has a duty introduce appropriate safeguards now.”