SDLP Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly has said it is shameful 1,001 properties are lying empty across Upper Bann while families wait for a home.
In response to Assembly Questions, the Department of Finance revealed there are currently 20,068 houses registered as being empty in the North.
The actual figure could be much higher given there is no requirement for owners to register their properties as empty.
As of June this year 2,908 applicants were on social housing waiting lists across Upper Bann with 1,756 in housing stress.
Just 4 new social homes were built across Upper Bann in 2020/21.
Upper Bann MLA Mrs Kelly said:
“That 1,001 homes remain vacant throughout Upper Bann is shocking, but taken in the context of the growing numbers on social housing waiting lists the figure is utterly shameful.
“While the pandemic has contributed significantly to the pressures placed on the system, the housing crisis has long predated Covid-19. There is no excuse for the failure to get to grips with this known issue and one which the SDLP has raised consistently over the past five years.
“It would appear that the Empty Homes Strategy launched in 2013 has done little to tackle the number of empty properties right across the North. The number has increased by almost 1,000 properties over the course of the pandemic and this figure could be significantly higher given the lack of incentive for owners to notify Land and Property Services that their properties are empty.
“For the thousands of individuals and families waiting in dire need for a place to call home, any property lying empty is unforgivable. Efforts need to be made to get as many of these properties back into use as possible. It must be considered an integral part in tackling the worsening housing crisis. To sit back and do nothing to reduce the number of empty homes would be a dereliction of duty.
“Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey must work in conjunction with her party colleague, Finance Minister Conor Murphy, and their Executive colleagues to address this matter and provide an updated, robust empty homes strategy. Bemoaning the lack of housing supply or assuring the public that every possible action is being taken to address the housing crisis while thousands of available properties go unused, is downright hypocrisy.
“Minister Hargey can’t lament the position so many people here find themselves in when zero action has been taken on empty homes. The department must do all they can to either purchase these properties or work with owners to get them up to standard. They can’t afford not to.”