First published at View Digital
In North Belfast, Catholics “continue to face inadequate access to affordable housing.” These are words not of politicians, activists, lobbyists or residents, but from a 2013 United Nations Report, echoing a previous report from 2009 which called for action to be taken on the issue of housing inequality. In her preliminary report, UN Special Rapporteur Raquel Rolnik writes, that she remains “concerned that full equality has not been achieved yet.”
Conservative Housing Minister at the time, Kris Hopkins dismissed the report as "a misleading Marxist diatribe.” However, figures obtained from the Housing Executive, by Participation and the Practice of Rights, under the Freedom of Information Act, show that in North Belfast there is a ‘residual need’ of 938 additional units of social housing required to meet the current need in Catholic areas, while in Protestant areas there is a need for 38 additional homes — a significantly less but nonetheless equally concerning figure.
In the Markets area of the city a similar story is told, with 106 applicants for housing and 86 households in housing stress; the area is designated as having a critical housing need.
Belfast City Councils decision to grant planning permission for an office development on the adjacent Gasworks Northern Fringe site, designated entirely for social housing, has understandably angered local residents.
The issue of housing need transcends religious or political divisions — homelessness cares not of what or who you call your God. All of Belfast’s inner city neighbourhoods, in varying degrees are categorised as areas of multiple deprivation and have significant housing needs — as a city this should concern us greatly. Yet, the issue of housing provision, as it was back in 1968, continues, in some areas, to be defined by religious division.
After that fateful Saturday in October 68 — arguably the beginning of the troubles — The Times, reporting on the inequality of housing provision in Northern Ireland, saying — quite controversially for a British newspaper at the time — that Catholics were being treated as “second class citizens”. That was 1968. In 2017 the provision of housing must be protected as a fundamental human right that transcends religion or tribe. Ignoring the echoes of the past, leaves us in danger of repeating its errors.