Consultation event: draft Housing Supply Strategy

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NICVA recently hosted an engagement event with the Department for Communities (DfC) on the recently published draft Housing Supply Strategy.

The draft Housing Supply Strategy sets out a 15 year pathway and framework for action, setting a direction of travel to transform supply while recognising that the range of housing supply “whole system challenges” identified require “whole system solutions”.

The draft Strategy now open for consultation was launched by Minister Deirdre Hargey on 8th December and will close on 9th February 2022.

Engagement event with Voluntary and Community Sector organisations

Seamus McAleavey, Chief Executive of NICVA, opened the event by welcoming attendees highlighting the purpose of the event was to provide attendees with the opportunity to explore, ask questions and comment on the draft Housing Strategy. Officials from the Department for Communities, Julie Lavery, Chris Mills and Kieran Devlin, were in attendance to update voluntary and community sector representatives on the draft Housing Strategy and answer any questions asked.

The draft Housing Supply Strategy

Julie Lavery provided an overview of the draft strategy detailing its background, current status and next steps. The 15-year Strategy will cover the period 2022-37 and has the stated aim of supporting the delivery of 100,000+ homes throughout Northern Ireland. It is the first cross-tenure strategy and will not solely focus on increasing numbers of houses but aim to ensure the quality, type and location are of a good standard. The strategy will not just be about ensuring the volume of homes, but that they are the right homes and in the right locations.

Why do we need a housing supply strategy?

There are a range of factors that have resulted in the need for a holistic strategy aimed at addressing housing supply in Northern Ireland. Some of the key areas that influenced the need for a housing supply strategy include:

  • Increasing levels of housing stress and homelessness.
  • Recognition of affordability challenges both for the first-time buyers and those who are renting.
  • Recognition of the change in context of housing.
  • Other policy areas including aging population and environmental issues.

In addition to the initial engagement with stakeholders, the early scoping work and cross-jurisdiction research carried out by DfC identified the need for a holistic approach to housing supply. This approach has therefore been at the core of the draft Strategy.

Why is this strategy different?

The draft Housing Supply Strategy has a holistic approach to the policy area and spans across a range of Departments, sectors and policy areas, rather than solely focusing on areas that fall within the remit of DfC. This approach allows for the leveraging of skills and resources across the public sector and beyond. This approach, if agreed, will provide for a high level of collaboration across public, private and voluntary and community sectors, as well as providing the framework for co-ordination and collaboration.

Call for evidence

The Call for Evidence period ran for eight weeks, from 19 May 2021 until 16 July 2021. Stakeholders and those interested in shaping the future of housing supply were invited to provide evidence, data and views on a selection of housing supply issues. The information collected during this time has informed the direction of travel taken by the Strategy, including the vision, objectives and the development of the 15 policy aims.

Although the information collected during this time has helped to shape the current draft Strategy, DfC have highlighted that it will be revisited again when it comes to developing the delivery of action plans.

During the Call for Evidence stage, a number of broad themes were identified and taken on board by DfC. The information received during this stage included:

  • The need for a joined-up response and Executive endorsement.
  • Broad agreement for the need for a Strategy, and the 15-year timeframe
  • The need for the development of an action plan to ensure that the strategy was implemented.
  • Broad agreement that the strategy covered all tenures as we all as both existing and new homes.
  • Recognition of the issues of climate response and decarbonisation within the strategy. This theme has gained more support throughout the strategy development process.
  • The idea that the houses are not just bricks and mortar, but homes that have the potential to contribute no more sustainable communities and creating positivity.
  • The need to focus on mechanisms to prevent homelessness, provision of appropriate housing based on needs, and consideration given to the impact of lack of choice and affordability.
  • Recognition of how those in the private rental sector can often face poor living conditions and face uncertain and expensive tenures.

Scoping and Research

Further to the engagement with stakeholders, the Department carried out scoping and research exercises to help better understand the obstacles and challenges that existed with regards to housing supply. The information collected demonstrated that housing supply in NI does not solely faces a number of related challenges rather than an overarching challenge. The different challenges, when combined, have resulted in the lack of ability to provide the right number of home or types of houses in the right places.

DfC highlighted that housing supply is driven by demographics, policy, economics and social preferences. Housing supply levers cut across a number of strategic areas including but not limited to finance, the provision of land, planning regulations, innovation and skills. The demand and supply levers are common across all tenures.

Collaboration across all these policy areas, in local and central Government, as well as including the Private, and Voluntary and Community Sectors, will be key to delivering on the framework outlined within the Strategy, and enabling the delivery of the 100,000+ homes over the 15 years.

The development of the strategy

To date, there have been six stages to the development of the Strategy:

  1. Pre-development
    1. Innovation Lab
    2. Research Paper
    3. EQIA
    4. RIA
  2. Call for Evidence and Research Review
    1. Call for Evidence paper issued
    2. Collation for housing research from other jurisdictions
  3. Engagement
    1. Implemented stakeholder plan to engage users and stakeholders from all sectors
    2. Utilisation of online portal Citizenspace
    3. Held over 40 stakeholder engagement events
  4. Data Synthesis
  5. Triangulation of Evidence / Policy option
  6. Consultation of Strategy

The Department for the Communities have acknowledged that the early engagement that took place during stages two and three of the strategy development process were crucial to allowing stakeholders to have an early say in the overall shaping of the draft Housing Supply Strategy.

Although it has been a lengthy process to get the current stage, the Department have highlighted their hope that the time invested in each stage has created a stable foundation for a strategy that has the potential to transform housing supply in NI.

Actions taken by the Department

Information collected from the call for evidence period and stakeholder events were analysed and synthesized by the Department. The output from the engagement can be accessed here.

Internal engagement and information sharing sessions took place with Departmental colleagues working across a number of policy areas. The collated information from the stakeholder engagement events helped to inform the internal Departmental conversations and challenge the status quo thinking that can takes place within public sector policy areas.

Early engagement helped to inform the Department and the scope of the strategy, resulting in extension of the initial strategy outline to now include new and existing homes.

The terminology of objectives two and four were changed as a result of the early engagement work while the vision of the strategy was also re-worded to reflect the feedback received.

The Department have now initiated a process of action planning, with some of the early actions already included in the draft Strategy currently out for consultation.

Long term policies and interventions

The five objectives in the draft strategy are:

  1. Increasing supply and affordable options across all tenures to meet housing need and demand
  2. Prevent homelessness, reduce housing stress and improve and prioritise housing solutions for those most in need
  3. Improve housing quality
  4. Ensure the provision of housing options that contribute to the building and maintenance of thriving inclusive communities and places
  5. Reduce whole life carbon emissions from both new homes and existing homes and support a ‘just transition’ to carbon neutrality

These five objectives are overarching to the 15 policy aims included within the draft strategy (Annex B of draft Housing Supply Strategy).

Early actions

DfC provided an overview of some examples of early actions within the five objectives including exploring the potential for community wealth building and assisting the Housing Executive with the delivery of the Older Peoples Strategy 21/22 – 26/27.

Next steps

After the consultation closes, the Department hope to present the Strategy to the Executive for the all-party endorsement. If agreed, the final Housing Supply Strategy will have the ability to effectively provide a Programme for Government with regards to housing policy.

If Executive endorsement is achieved before the end of this mandate, the Housing Supply Strategy will be published before the end of March, with the aim to begin implementation of the strategy immediately after.

The Department for Communities are currently developing appropriate governance arrangements and an action plan to enable the implementation of the strategy.

Consultation Information

The draft Strategy now open for consultation was launched by Minister Deirdre Hargey on 8th December and will close on 9th February 2022.

You can provide your response to the strategy via Citizenspace.

The lead team on the Strategy can also be contact ed at [email protected]

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