Landlords profitingfrom city homeless

PRIVATE landlords have increased their profits from homelessness in Londonderry three fold in the past five years, the Sentinel can reveal.

Back in 2007/8 the people of Northern Ireland paid Londonderry landlords £265,169 to provide temporary/emergency accomodation to housing benefit recipients but this rocketed to £892,185 last year - a three fold increase.

The increase in Londonderry’s Waterside was even higher. In 2007/8 private Waterside landlords received £14,293 in housing benefit payments. But this increased to £100,138 in 2011/12 - a seven fold increase.

The people of Northern Ireland forked out £2,476,915 to private Londonderry landlords who provided emergency accommodation to homeless people over the five year period: £1,404,007 in the Waterloo Place Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) district; £867,880 in the Collon Terrace district; and £205,028 in the Waterside district.

Housing Minister Nelson McCausland was asked by Green MLA Stephen Agnew how much was paid to private landlords through the housing benefit for temporary/emergency accommodation in each of the last five years.

Mr McCausland provided the amount of estimated housing benefit paid to private landlords for temporary/emergency accommodation by Housing Executive District Office, for the city in the last five years.

Earlier this year the Sentinel reported how almost one thousand people were accepted by the Housing Executive as being homeless in Londonderry.

After Belfast the city had the highest number of applicants (983) accepted as homeless in Northern Ireland.

By contrast, in neighbouring Strabane just 84 applicants were accepted as homeless, the lowest amount of people in the province. The figure for Limavady was 130.

The paper also reported that there were more vacant residential houses in Londonderry than the number of people accepted as homeless.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson revealed that at January 22 there were a total of 1,500 vacant residential properties in the city and that 1,087 of these were houses.

He stated: “Of the 1,500 vacant residential properties within the Derry City Council Area as at January 22, (a) 1,087 were houses, (b) 339 were flats and 74 were other types of property.

“Of the 1,500 properties, 28 were formerly non-domestic properties. It is not possible to identify whether any of these properties were former small business premises.

“Of the 1,415 properties where the number of bedrooms was recorded, 153 had one bedroom, 338 had two bedrooms and 924 had three or more bedrooms.”

The Sentinel has also highlighted the damaging social effects of homelessness in Londonderry and elsewhere.

For example, homeless women were said to have been sexually exploited in the city in exchange for money, drugs, alcohol or just a roof over their heads according to an internal health service paper concentrating on prostitution in the Londonderry area.

And homelessness is set to increase here with the Housing Minister Nelson McCausland stating in May that over 700 people in Londonderry were affected by cost-saving housing benefits cuts introduced at the start of the year.

Many of these people face the prospect of having to leave their homes to live in shared bedsits and digs, it has been revealed.

New and existing housing benefit claimants in the city may be forced out of their homes by Whitehall’s cost-cutting extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) from the under 25s to the under 35s.

The age threshold for application of the shared accommodation rate increased from 25 to 35 from January 1, 2012.

Previously, people over 25 could apply for help to pay rent on a one-bedroom flat. Now you have to be over 35 to get this benefit and anyone under that age can only apply for a shared room benefit.

Housing Minister Nelson McCausland said 779 existing housing benefit cases in Londonderry are affected be the cuts.