The case in brief
The Seven Towers, a social housing project, is in an electoral ward in Belfast that has consistently been rated as one of the most deprived
in terms of unmet housing needs in the whole of Northern Ireland. The Seven Towers Residents Group has collaborated with Participation
and the Practice of Rights (PPR) since 2006 on a campaign to identify and seek to remedy problems that are obstacles to the residents’
enjoyment of their right to housing. Surveys have consistently confirmed that large numbers of residents suffer from dampness and cold
in their flats, and that the heating system in the Towers is inefficient and expensive. Temperatures remain low and dampness persists.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) manages the flats for the Department for Social Development. In 2007 the residents
learned of an NIHE plan to clad the exteriors of the Towers. Cladding would involve fitting a PVC rain screen to the building exteriors. Its
primary purpose would be to help maintain the condition of those exteriors. It would have no significant impact on the dampness and
cold in the flats.
Using existing Freedom of Information laws, PPR requested information about NIHE’s expenditures on maintenance over the previous
decade. From the limited information provided, PPR was able to deduce that little had been spent on maintenance related to the
residents’ needs. PPR also did an estimate of what it would cost to replace the existing heating system with one that was more efficient
and less costly to residents. It concluded that such a replacement would cost little more than 25 percent of what the cladding would cost,
while addressing directly the problems of cold and damp. In addition, the new heating system would save residents significant amounts
on their heating bills.
Through a series of public meetings, PPR has managed to bring about greater public awareness of the problems in the Seven Towers.
The residents and PPR also brought the results of their budget analysis to the attention of the Minister for Social Development. While he
rejected the alternative proposed by them, the residents’ and PPR’s efforts have increased NIHE’s awareness of residents’ needs and of
their right to housing, and has ensured greater accountability.

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