NI Housing Executive to be abolished under new plans
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive looks set to be dismantled in a major re-structuring move by the Department of Social Development.
Plans to scrap the body, which has existed for 40 years, were announced by Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland.
He said it was "no longer sustainable or made the best use of public money".
Mr McCausland is proposing major reforms, including a new regional housing body.
The Housing Executive is one of Northern Ireland's largest public bodies, with almost 3,000 staff and 90,000 homes.
A review was carried out in 2011 and the general consensus was that the "do nothing option was not a realistic solution", Mr McCausland said.
Under the changes, the houses are likely to be transferred to local housing associations.
Mr McCausland said: "My proposals set out the strategic direction for the way social housing will be delivered which will be fit for the 21st century.
"These proposals not only build on the success of the past, but create structures that will ensure social housing delivery is on a sound basis to build for the future."
However, the trade union representing the Housing Executive's employees is seeking an urgent meeting with Mr McCausland.
Alison Millar of NIPSA said Mr McCausland had failed to explain how staff would be transferred to any new body.
"There's absolutely no reference in the ministerial statement that would allay the fears of the staff, the 2,800 staff currently employed by the Housing Executive," she said.
Chief executive of the Housing Executive Dr John McPeake, said he welcomed the commitment that tenants would be consulted on any major changes.
"We believe this is essential in order to maintain high standards in housing services," he said.
"We will be arguing the case to ensure that whatever structures are in place, they are underpinned by our core values of fairness and equity... and all our staff will have a clear understanding of their future roles as soon possible."
But the SDLP's Foyle MLA, Mark H Durkan, criticised the minister for the way he made the announcement.
"The demolition of the Housing Executive, which is the symbol of the one great progressive move in dealing with the north's pitiful legacy of political housing, is bad enough," he said.
"To use welfare reform as the smokescreen for hacking away at this body was a sign of the minister's dual wedding to both a vicious Tory cuts agenda and a determination to re-politicising housing allocations.
"But for the minister to announce it without the chance for MLAs to properly interrogate the decision is an act of rank cowardice."
John Lowry of the Workers Party said it was a "dangerous and backward step".
"For the past number of years there has been a steady erosion of the central role of the Housing Executive and today's announcement marks the final move to towards handing responsibility for housing provision to the private sector," he said.
"Profit and private greed not housing need will the hallmark of any new service. Those thousands of people in housing need will find little comfort in today's announcement."