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A cross party motion initiated by Newry city councillor, Michael Savage calling for a Social and Affordable housing conference in Newry, successfully gained unanimous support at the monthly meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council on Monday night in Downpatrick.

The motion called for the conference to take place in February and stakeholders will be invited to participate with the aim of tackling the housing crisis in Newry and entire district.

Cllr Savage spoke of his appreciation of all the party groupings who supported and put their names to the motion and comented that "It demonstrates to the citizens of this district and to the people responsible for providing social and affordable housing that this Council is committed to assisting where it can in tackling the growing housing crisis in this city and district." 

Cllr Michael Savage who proposed the housing conference motion.
Cllr Michael Savage who proposed the housing conference motion.

As well as Cllr Savage, Cllr Laura Devlin, Cllr Charlie Casey, Cllr Willie Clarke, Cllr Davy Hyland, Cllr David Taylor, Cllr William Walker and Cllr Andrew McMurray all added their names to the motion.

Challenges

Speaking of the challenges Cllr Savage said "Newry is the perfect storm when it comes to challenges in delivering social housing. Our city is unique in that it ticks almost every single box relating to challenges to getting social housing units built; from lack of sites, the topography and geography of the area, growing disabled need, a young population that needs housed and also one of the fasted growing older populations in the North. 

"Given the scale of the problem in Newry and the full suite of challenges it faces in relation to social and affordable housing – it is hoped that the solutions that are unearthed at this proposed conference will be replicated throughout the region."

Cllr Savage hopes to invite the Permanent Secretary for the Department of Communities, the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the CEO of Newry, Mourne and Down Council as three potential keynote speakers.

Scale of Housing Crisis

Cllr Savage spoke at Monday's meeting of the 'breath-taking' scale of the housing crisis in this district.

"Statistics I have received from the Housing Executive based on projected need at March of this year shows that we need a minimum of 700 units in Newry city alone to meet the housing need, though I am led to believe that in real terms that figure is closer to 1,000 units if we are to deal with this problem properly. District wide the figure sits at 1,844 but in real terms that figure could grow to well over 2,000.

"If we break the official figures down, and they are conservative in their estimation, it looks like there we are looking at 706 applications for housing in Newry city for the period March 2017 to March 2018. Of those 706 a total of 573 applicants were deemed to be in Housing Stress or effectively homeless. The total number of houses allocated was a paltry 66. 

"District wide the numbers are 3,166 applications of which 2,388 are in housing stress with a grand total of 430 allocations."

A First Step

The Newry city councillor spoke of the conference as a 'first step' in getting people a place the can call home added "These figures highlight the terrible extent of this housing crisis in this district and particularly in Newry. As a Newry councillor who represents some of the most deprived wards in the North and who witnesses how an inability to secure a home can lead to so many of the social problems in our city – I can no longer stand by and allow this to continue. Tonight we as councillors are speaking up for the citizens of this city and district who have just as much a right to a decent home as people who live in Ballymena, Belfast, Lisburn or any other area of the North."

Living above the Shop

'Living above the shop' is one suggestion to help with the housing crisis in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
'Living above the shop' is one suggestion to help with the housing crisis in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Cllr Savage also suggested a revived living above the shop scheme similar to a scheme currently proposed in England. Virtually all shops on Hill Street and Monaghan Street have spaces above their premises that could be converted into accommodation with a little imagination.

Basic Human Right

Cllr Walker who seconded the motion welcomed it's cross party nature on Monday night and added  "There is not one part of this district not in need of social housing. Newry, Newcastle or Rowallane" A suggestion was also made that more sheltered accomodation would free up housing.

Cllr Hyland said he would be 'backing it to the hilt' adding that housing is a basic human right while Cllr David Taylor spoke of people sitting on waiting lists for years because of lack of availability.

Cllr Clarke asked for Newcastle and Warrenpoint to be included in the motion and Cllr Savage added that he was happy to do that.

The Motion

Against the backdrop of a growing social and affordable housing crisis in Newry City and across the District, this Council agrees to hold a major Social and Affordable Housing Conference in Newry in February 2019. The Department of Communities, The Housing Executive and all stakeholders within the housing sector and associated support service providers will be invited to attend this event which will have the aim of providing opportunities for collaboration to provide short, medium and long term solutions to tackle the social and affordable housing crisis in Newry and across the district.

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