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21 March 2016
by Colette Moore, Group Director of Housing at Clanmil Housing
21 years after the Good Friday Agreement, social housing in Northern Ireland is segregated on sectarian lines as a consequence of the conflict. Despite millions in peace money pumped into the state, this is normalised. In stark contrast, the owner occupied and private rented sectors are mixed.
Over the past number of years, Clanmil has worked with the Housing Executive to develop social housing that offers a choice for people who wish to live in shared housing. In setting out on this work - nearly ten years ago now - it seemed right to begin within existing shared neighbourhoods and two of our housing developments - The Curzon on Belfast's Ormeau Road and Causeway Meadows in Lisburn - were among the first shared housing schemes.
The Together: Building a United Community Strategy, launched in 2013, set a new challenge from OFMDFM to extend the work on shared housing, shared space and shared education as platforms to help build a lasting peace. Ten new developments have now been identified as potential shared future schemes including our development at Felden in Newtownabbey. The housing association movement in Northern Ireland is responding to the challenge.
Our critics castigate such efforts as “social engineering”. However, was it not the worst kind of social engineering that resulted in the forced migration of the population of Northern Ireland into single identity communities in the early 70's? Clanmil offers a choice to those who need a home and provides a safe space to live and raise families. There are no quotas to achieve a mixed community. We allocate homes based on housing need. And what is striking, is the huge need for social housing, especially in the greater Belfast area. This human need, and the resulting competition for homes, in itself results in pressure on the allocation of scare resources.
Our experience is that the people moving into our shared future developments welcome the opportunity to live in a mixed community. Their priority is a home in a safe environment and they welcome shared spaces.
The key consideration here is that society is changing. The number of people from ethnic groups living in Northern Ireland has doubled since the Good Friday Agreement, adding a further dynamic to our community. People in mixed relationships need a safe and shared space to live and raise their families. We have seen heartening examples of how these changes are developing new and progressive perspectives on our future. Local young people responded to sectarian graffiti at Felden by voicing their whole hearted support for a shared neighbourhood in a video they made.
Shared space and life is a good thing and the housing association movement is pioneering shared housing in Northern Ireland. This is not easy and not without challenges and we accept that it may well take generations to achieve the desired impact from peace building, good relations work and sharing our spaces. However, we have a duty to do all we can to support those who aspire to live in a safe and shared space that is welcoming to all. We believe that shared housing can make a real, meaningful and lasting difference and this is what Clanmil is about.
Kind hearted staff and tenants at Clanmil Housing’s Abercorn Court, Cramsie Court and Hezl
A newly formed resident group in Portadown has struck lucky in a funding competition run b