Right to buy scheme halt set to disadvantage nationalist buyers

Proposed changes to a scheme that allows Housing Executive tenants to buy their own home have come under severe criticism from local MLA Fra McCann.

In May of this year the Department of Social Development commissioned a consultation process to look at the way social housing stock is sold off to tenants.

The scheme will also look at the possibility of allowing tenants to purchase Housing Association homes.

Since the Right to Buy scheme was launched in 1979 over 150,000 homes have been sold to Executive tenants here.

The scheme has been hailed a success for allowing low-income families to get a foot on the property ladder.

Fra McCann said the scheme was also successful in other ways. “Research has shown that when a number of families in any one estate purchase their homes the level of anti-social behaviour is reduced.

“As tenants become home owners they take pride in their area, this has a knock-on effect.

“Also when the homes come up for resale they are significantly cheaper than privately owned stock and so provide an opportunity for first time buyers to get their foot on the property ladder.”

However, since May of this year all house sales have been put on hold while the consultation takes place.

It is this, and the changes to the amount of discount that tenants are entitled to, that has outraged the West Belfast MLA.

Fra McCann said the consultation is nothing more than a smoke screen and he believes the department plans to force through changes regardless of the outcome.

“Since May of this year the tenants right to buy their home has been put on hold while this consultation takes place,” said Fra.

“This is unprecedented, it is normal to complete a consultation before making any changes.

“The department seems to be intent on forcing through change - regardless of whatever the outcome of the consultation process is.”

And Fra added that it would be nationalist householders who would be hardest hit by the changes.

“Pressure for housing in nationalist areas of Belfast is far greater in comparison to the demand for housing within unionist areas.

“This is also reflected in house prices.

“By putting a cap on the amount of discount that long-term tenants are entitled to, the scheme is making it almost 50 per cent more expensive to buy a home in a nationalist area.

“The amount of rates that those home owners pay will also be far greater as it will be determined by the value of their property.”

Fra has called on the DSD to increase the amount of new-builds to cope with demand, rather than make changes to the Right to Buy scheme.

“Few would deny that there is a shortage of social housing, but the way to deal with this is to ensure a proper and effective new-build scheme, not by penalising those who aspire to own their home.”

Journalist:: Allison Morris

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