Local residents say the Housing Executive is “ripping out the community’s heart” by proposing to transfer 129 homes to a housing association.
The Ferris Park and Wellington Green residents fear that the proposed move would increase rents, with no guarantee that the housing association which wins the contract would improve the standard of accommodation on the estates.
This estate has generations of families living here but if this happens and rents go up people will move elsewhere which will suck the heart out of the community
While Wellington Green residents were aware that their properties were listed on the Housing Executive’s stock transfer list Ferris Park residents said they were shocked to receive a letter notifying them of their estate’s proposed housing transfer on April 16.
The Housing Executive letter states that due to “ongoing uncertainties about the Housing Executive’s future funding situation, we cannot guarantee at this time when we will be in a position to carry out the necessary improvement work that many of our properties require.”
The letter goes on to say that the Stock Transfer Programme would allow “major improvement work” to be funded and carried out.
Community Development Worker Gareth McConnell met with two Housing Executive representatives who visited the latest meeting of the Factory Forum Community Group to discuss the issue.
He commented: “People want to know why the whole area has been put up for stock transfer.
“I have sat on the local housing network forum for the last couple of years and they have been talking about Wellington Green for possible stock transfer, but Ferris Park was only mentioned recently.”
Wellington Park resident Jonathan Brown added: “People here are worried that rents will go up and we have no guarantee in writing that we will get any improvements. When we asked them in the meeting if rents would go up they said that they couldn’t confirm it but they didn’t deny it either.
“This estate has generations of families living here but if this happens and rents go up people will move elsewhere which will suck the heart out of the community.”
Responding to residents’ concerns, a NIHE spokesperson commented: “The proposal is at the very early stages and the Housing Executive would like to assure tenants that it is a proposal and ultimately it is the tenants who will decide if their homes can be transferred.
“We have written out to all tenants and they will be fully consulted. A public meeting will also be held in the summer and all tenants will be invited to attend.
“Both Ferris Park and Wellington Green were in the original stock transfer programme.
“Both had been scheduled for a major improvement programme but this programme ended before the work could be implemented, which is why this estate was proposed for the stock transfer programme. A review of the stock transfer programme which was carried out last year concluded that stock transfer would work better if carried out on an estate basis. For that reason, 40 additional properties from the estate were added to the programme, bringing the total to 129, which includes the 24 properties in Wellington Green.”
Residents have ‘lost trust’ in NIHE
Ferris Park and Wellington Green residents told The Times that they have lost all trust in the Housing Executive after being “saddled with years of substandard housing.”
Last month, The Times revealed that no money has been spent on capital improvement schemes in Wellington Green over the past two decades due to them being listed on the Housing Executive’s stock transfer list.
This resulted in residents being forced to use coal fires and living in houses with outdated wiring. While homes in Ferris Park have benefitted from modernising multi-element improvement schemes, Community Development worker Gareth McConnell says that not all of the estate’s homes were upgraded through the programme.
He explained: “When they started the improvement scheme the first few homes were given a full renovation with their kitchens extended, new wiring and fresh plastering.
“Then they ran out of money, which brought a halt to the work and they didn’t come back for 18 months. The work they carried out after that wasn’t up to the same standard. There were no kitchen extensions and due to the size of the properties residents felt aggrieved as they wanted their homes to be finished to the same level.
“Since then we have lost confidence in the Housing Executive and we don’t feel confident that if the estate transfers to a Housing Association the work which needs to be done will be done, while residents are afraid rents will increase.”
Despite not benefitting from improvement schemes, Wellington Green residents say they pay higher rent than their Ferris Park neighbours for similar properties. According to a FOI request, a three bedroom home for five people costs £71.56 in rent while a three bedroom home for four people in Ferris Park costs £59.04.
Wellington Green resident Jonathan Brown added: “The rent we pay is higher and yet we live in substandard accommodation. Ferris Park has better wiring and double glazing. We have no guarantee that if the estates move to a Housing Association the work will be done while rents are almost certain to increase.”
Despite assurances from the Housing Executive that residents will decide if the proposal goes ahead, Gareth says residents fear it will be “pushed through.”
Commenting on the rental price differences between Ferris Park and Wellington Green, an NIHE spokesperson said: “The rents charged on a Housing Executive home are based on a points system. Points are awarded for type of home, age of property, number/size of rooms and finally amenities such as heating in all or part of home. Each point currently has a value of £1.876 (15/16 year). Carrying out multi-element work to a property would not necessarily impact on the points unless the characteristics changed such as changing from a kitchen to kitchen dinette.”