Rathcoole residents’ group to hold talks with NIHE chief about shortage of social housing

Rathcoole residents call on the Housing Executive to rent out nearly 100 flats in the estate that have been lying empty for several years. INNT 21-521CON
Rathcoole residents call on the Housing Executive to rent out nearly 100 flats in the estate that have been lying empty for several years. INNT 21-521CON

A Rathcoole community group is seeking a meeting with the head of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to discuss plans to address social housing need in the estate.

Rathcoole Regeneration Group says it is hoping to meet with NIHE chief executive Mags Lightbody in the coming weeks to raise concerns about the number of flats lying empty in the estate’s four multi-storey tower blocks.

More than 90 properties in the Abbotscoole, Carncoole, Glencoole and Monkscoole blocks have been lying vacant for some time, despite the Executive spending millions of pounds on refurbishment works.

Pointing to the growing numbers of people on the housing waiting list, Rathcoole Regeneration Group (RRG) has called on the NIHE to take action to address the shortage of social housing in the estate.

Several RRG representatives gathered at the Department for Social Development offices in Belfast last Wednesday, May 13, to hand over a petition calling on Minister Mervyn Storey to take urgent action to ensure the empty flats are made available to new tenants.

The residents, who are being supported by the human rights organisation Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR), have also sent a letter to the Social Development Committee at Stormont calling for an investigation into the social housing situation in the estate. They claim the failure of the NIHE to rent out the flats is “effectively driving people to homelessness” and say releasing the empty units could reduce the housing waiting list in the area by almost 50 per cent.

“We don’t need promises of additional social housing in the future when there is an abundance of empty properties now that can be used for people in dire need in our community. We need regeneration, and we need to start with renovating and opening these flats now,” said RRG project coordinator David Crooks.

Responding to the questions and concerns voiced by the residents’ group, a Housing Executive spokesperson stressed that more than £30m has been invested in the Rathcoole area over the last number of years, but revealed that 91 properties are currently lying vacant across the estate’s four tower blocks.

While confirming that the NIHE is currently allocating flats at the refurbished Glencoole block, she declined to say exactly how many vacant properties in total will be made available to new tenants.

“We have just completed the largest survey we have ever carried out into the condition of our stock and this will help us develop a five-year investment plan for all our housing stock across Northern Ireland. Importantly this will help us develop long term solutions that suit tenants’ needs now and in the future. We will of course be developing local plans alongside the community groups and tenants of Rathcoole,” the spokesperson added.

On Monday evening, May 18, RRG members met to continue what they say will be “an ongoing protest” about the shortage of social housing in the estate .

Mr Crooks said the group is “now waiting to go into talks with the chief executive of the Housing Executive to discuss how they will allocate the properties (in the multi-storey flats) to those most in need of the accommodation.”

RRG spokesman Arthur McCord added: “We as a community based group are committed to seeing this through to the end. Families and friends are the focus of the group in finding homes and by opening up the flats the waiting list will be dramatically cut.”

Rathcoole Regeneration Group meets on Sunday evenings in Whitehouse Working Men’s Club at 7pm. For more information email rathcoole-regeneration@outlook.com

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