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Peter Hadden

Northern Ireland Housing Executive

(December 1975)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 39, December 1975.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

Twelve months ago the Northern Ireland Housing Executive issued findings of its survey of housing conditions. In a few succinct figures it provided a total condemnation of the housing situation there. In all, 38% of all houses were found to be in need of some form of repair. More drastically, one house in five was stated to be unfit for human habitation. The less fit houses are also the most overcrowded. 40% of the population of the country are living in houses which are either unfit or else require expenditure of over £250.

That was twelve months ago. In the meantime the situation has not been improved. The annual report of the Housing Executive recently published reveals this only too clearly. It is a sorry tale of how a public body can be made impotent by the nature of the economic system under which we live.

During the previous 12 months 5,252 new houses were built 1,062 less than the Housing Executive’s own target and a figure which not even scratches the surface of the housing problem, given the rate of depreciation of older dwellings. Why was it not possible to build more houses?

The answer is simple, and in part it is explained in the report itself. One reason they gave is a shortage of certain professional staff. But this would not constitute a major obstacle. Another, more important reason, is the astronomical rise in building costs and difficulties experienced by the Executive in obtaining tenders. In some areas contractors have been reluctant to tender while in others the tenders received have been above the cost yard-stick and have had to be rejected.

In other words, private contractors have been allowed to hold back in on effort to search out higher profits. But the final reason given in the report is a central factor in the problem.

“One of the problems currently facing the valuers of the Commission for Valuation is the difficulty of negotiating a reasonable price for land in a situation of rapid land inflation. Land owners find it to their advantage in such times to delay agreement of price for as long a period as possible.”

Or to put it in other words we have grown more accustomed to hearing in recent times, land speculation. That a public body, with one of the most important functions of any Government authority in Northern Ireland, should be forced to describe in such a way the difficulties placed in its path by the system of private ownership of land and of the building supply industry should be more than enough to force the Labour Government to act to remedy the situation.

Then the much quoted slogan, “Homes for people, not for profit”, could begin to take on flesh.

There is another aspect to the report which also demands close scrutiny. Last year the Executive ran up, a total deficit of £20m.While the average rent is something in the region of £4.50, the “economic rent”, in other words one which would cover all the expenses involved would be more than £20 a week.

So, concludes the report, “The Housing Executive is now in the position where the more houses it builds, the larger will be its future losses. ” Does this mean that the tenants who are now paying £4.50 a week are getting their accommodation on the cheap? Indeed it does not!

The reason the Executive has had to face a crippling deficit can be summed up in two words Interest rates. In the 12 month period covered by this report the total property income was a little over £31m. Of this, £11m went on maintenance and depreciation, and a little over £5½ on administration expenses. Why then the huge loss? £31,300,000 went on interest repayments. The bulk of this goes on Government loans, but a certain amount went to the Trustee Savings Bank. Also the Executive has an account in the Northern Bonk which is over £1 million overdrawn.

Recently, when Tenants organisations were protesting against the increase in the rents of Executive houses, they pointed out that a house which cost £9,000 to build actually would cost £90,000 when the interest rates were calculated. And when it is considered that the £9,000 is a figure inflated by the type of speculation in property already mentioned, it begins to become clear how easy it would be, on the basis of a socialist economy, to tackle the housing issue.

The solution to the problems of housing finance can only be found by the nationalisation of the major finance houses. With capital publically owned it would be possible for the government to provide interest-free loans. It is a present-day scandal that the Government is milking one of its own bodies through the imposition of interest charges. A Socialist Housing Policy is the only way to provide decent homes for people.

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Last updated: 24 April 2015