The Department for Communities' "Call for Evidence for a Housing Supply Strategy" gave PPR a welcome opportunity to review our 'housing backlist' - 14 years' worth of people's stories about the way they were living, the impact their housing conditions had on them and the various means they used to work for meaningful change.
The DFC asked for evidence under 10 different headings, ranging from equality and human rights to poverty, sustainability, planning, finance, climate and more. In response PPR submitted 26 pages of document references and abstracts - encompassing the length and breadth of the housing campaigns it has supported since it began - out of the conviction that lack of social housing supply is at the root of many of the housing problems blighting people's lives here.
For PPR the written record opens in 2007, with Seven Towers residents struggling with the impact of widespread damp and mould, defective plumbing (that sent waste up their drains), and accumulated pigeon waste littering their landings - the only communal space their children had to play. They recorded public hearings with panels of international housing experts, looking closely at the right to adequate housing and what it means in practice. Crucially, they examined NI duty bearers' responsibilities to help people progressively realise their right to adequate housing - including in times of duress or resource constraints.
The bibliography includes numerous sets of human rights benchmarks and indicators, developed by groups as a way of identifying ways to make concrete improvements and to measure any progress over time.
Groups won important victories, including - for the Seven Towers residents, for instance - waste clean-up and a policy change from the Housing Executive not to place families in tower blocks anymore. In an effort to make progress in combatting damp and mould in the flats, PPR funded an independent scoping review for alternative solutions to the proposed cladding of the tower blocks. It also resourced a budget analysis of the cladding scheme proposed by the authorities over PPR's objections, and later published a post-Grenfell fire safety review of the cladding applied to several of the tower blocks.
The backlist also includes responses to official housing consultations and reviews - for instance on selection, allocations, chronic homelessness and the definition of affordable housing - as well as numerous UN submissions analysing progress towards the right to adequate housing here. There have also been several different proposals for alternative ways to fund and build new-build social housing.
Most importantly, over the years these publications have been a way for people living with the fallout from unmet housing rights to make their voices heard, with in-depth reporting of the stories of homeless hostel residents, Syrian refugee families, asylum seekers and residents in assisted living settings, amongst others. Crucially, groups have continually used campaign updates to describe their work to achieve change and identify areas of progress as well as barriers.
PPR continues to believe that the right to adequate housing should be at the core of policy making. More social homes should be built, and they should be sited in the areas of highest need. Most recently, efforts have focused on the vacant 25 acre, DFC-owned Mackie's site in West Belfast. The site has huge potential to provide homes in an area with extremely high, and growing, housing need. We're working with homeless families, planning experts and academics to bring forward proposals for a sustainable community here.
Covid-19 has taught us all a new lesson in the meaning of home, and our children should no longer have to grow up without the benefit of one. Past policies, habits and divisions that stand in the way of achieving this deserve no role in our future.
Paige Jennings is a policy officer for PPR. She has worked in human rights and development roles in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, for a range of local, international and United Nations organisations. She has been an Amnesty International researcher and has written for Minority Rights Group, Child Soldiers International, UNDP and UNHCR.