In November 2020, the region’s government announced that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) would undergo a restructuring, which could see its owner and regional functions split into two.
NIHE reform has been in the works for years, but more recently a serious funding crisis has prevented it from paying for the necessary investments in its huge building stock.
In 2018, it emerged that the owner of 84,000 homes was facing an annual deficit of around £ 140million and that £ 7bn of investment was needed over the next 30 years.
Much of the problem is that its current classification means that it is unable to borrow without affecting the public balance sheet.
The 2020 announcement called for NIHE to become a mutual, where employees and residents co-own the organization, like some housing associations across the UK.
But in March 2021, the region’s Minister of Housing appeared to reverse this proposal.
Speaking to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said she had asked officials exploring options for NIHE reform “to make sure they exhaust all options that limit change as much as possible ”.
As it stands, the future of NIHE remains uncertain. In its annual report on UK housing in March, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) warned that “important questions” about reform plans still need to be answered, such as rents, decarbonization costs. and the start-up payments for the overhaul of the authority.
In other more positive news for the owner, it emerged earlier in the same month that NIHE would be exempt from corporate tax, saving it around £ 10million a year.
The UK government has revealed that NIHE would no longer have to pay corporate tax, while the policy would be retroactive from April 2020, meaning a saving of £ 20million for the next exercise.
The news was probably welcome, after a tough budget in January. But despite the budget described as “difficult”, the government has pledged to increase funding for social housing.
Finance Minister Conor Murphy has pledged to make capital funding of £ 1.75bn available for the region in 2021/22, for spending on social housing construction as well as major road and hospital projects .
The draft budget tables showed that £ 224.8million of this capital expenditure would go to the Department for Communities (DfC), which is responsible for housing.
In April of last year, the government announced a 20% increase in its social housing subsidy budget for the fiscal year.
NIHE received £ 162million to be allocated through the Social Housing Development Program (SHDP) in 2021/22 – an increase of around £ 26million from the previous year.
Ms Hargey combined the announcement with the news that social housing construction targets have been beaten well in 2020/21.
However, the previous month the government came under criticism from major housing bodies in Northern Ireland, who expressed concerns that there was no specific housing outcome in their government agenda.
In a letter to ministers, the CIH Northern Ireland, the Federation of Northern Ireland Housing Associations (NIFHA), Housing Rights and the Council for the Homeless NI said they were “deeply disappointed” by omission.
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland executive office said tackling homelessness was a “key priority”.