Bid to end 'housing segregation'

About 90% of public sector housing has become segregated

Two integrated housing estates are to be created in a bid to bring divided communities closer together in Northern Ireland.

The Housing Executive said it was also taking measures to protect the interests of ethnic minority tenants.

Next month, the agency will officially launch its Community Cohesion Unit, set up to promote better community relations on its estates.

About 90% of public sector housing in Northern Ireland has become segregated.

The Housing Executive has not yet revealed where the pilot estates will be.

Brendan Murtagh, a reader in environmental planning at Queen's University, said the movement of people in Northern Ireland in the 1970s was the biggest mass movement of any population in Europe since the Second World War up until the Balkan conflict.

"People felt they had to move further back into their ethnic heartlands, into places where they felt secure.

"That territorial behaviour was basically reflecting the fear and anxiety in the wider community."

Up until the outbreak of the Troubles, most public housing tenants had lived in relative harmony in mixed estates.

The mainly loyalist Rathcoole estate on the outskirts of north Belfast began as an optimistic social experiment.

In the beginning, a third of its population were Catholics.

'Social attitudes'

Former resident and Labour councillor Mark Langhammer said it had been a very mixed estate.

"Most of the Catholic population moved out around 1971, 1972 and 1973. By and large, it's a segregated area, if you want to put it that way."

He said in the 10 years since the first IRA ceasefire, the "marking out of territory" had increased.

"It would be very difficult to say that this is the right time to try the reintegration in an area like Rathcoole."

In a recent social attitudes survey, more than 70% of people said they would prefer to live in an integrated area.

The Housing Executive said it was seeking to promote good community relations in housing policy through its new Community Cohesion unit.

It has been set up to develop and implement the executive's 'Good Relations Strategy'.

Its priority is tackling flags, emblems and "sectional symbols", supporting people who choose to live in single identity or integrated neighbourhoods and assist in the pilot of two integrated housing schemes.

Last month, the Housing Executive said it was looking for views on its race relations policy amid concerns that ethnic minorities were being refused housing in some areas.

Its draft policy relates to anyone renting houses to people from ethnic minorities.

Chief Executive Paddy McIntyre said they had to meet the changing needs of the increasingly ethnically-diverse community in Northern Ireland.

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