The nature of housing policy formulation - exploring the twin-myths of "the benevolent" and "the meddling" state using the case of Northern Ireland

Wednesday 13 May 2020 (11:00-12:00)

Helen Harris:

The history of public housing in Northern Ireland is a central element to understanding how society has developed in the Six-counties.

Speaker: Stewart Smyth (Accounting Department, Birmingham Business School)

The Seminar will be held via Zoom – a joining code will be sent to you.

For the first fifty years public housing was a bulwark to maintain the political stability of the Orange State (Farrell, 1976) through discriminatory allocations policies and gerrymandering local government institutions. The second half century has been one of initial reform and development of internationally recognised good practice in public housing provision (PwC, 2011); followed by being subject to a series of all too familiar neoliberal-inspired reforms leading to the current existential threat (Smyth, 2018) to the public housing provider, NI Housing Executive.

Sandwiched in-between these two long periods was a brief chapter of campaigning by civil rights and other activists, for an end to discrimination in housing that gave rise to the formation of the NI Housing Executive in February, 1971.

To understand this history and to develop lessons that may be applicable in other jurisdictions, this paper explores the nature of housing policy formulation including the twin-myths of “the benevolent” and “the meddling” state. In contrast, I utilise the formulation by Madden and Marcuse (2016, p. 120) that housing policy, including the state more broadly, ‘has used the housing system to preserve political stability and support the accumulation of private profit’.


Farrell, M. (1976). Northern Ireland: The Orange State. (London: Pluto Press).

Madden, D. & Marcuse, P. (2016). In Defense of Housing. (London: Verso).

PwC Report, (2011). Review of Northern Ireland Housing Executive: Options for Future Service Delivery. Department for Social Development.

Smyth, C. (2018). Half of Northern Ireland Housing Executive homes at risk of decommissioning amid funding crisis. The Detail, 18 October, 2018. 

Watch the full seminar