Written By: - Date published: 8:19 am, May 30th, 2018 - 80 comments
Categories: class war, drugs, labour, making shit up, national, paula bennett, phil twyford, same old national, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags:
One of the many sensible early steps taken by Phil Twyford was to reverse Housing Corporation’s insane policy on methamphetamine.
Under the last Government it had a policy that any trace found in a Housing Corporation unit would start the process of getting the person evicted as well as in some cases seeking damages for over the top repair bills. And there would be an ongoing affect on tenants if they applied for accommodation in the future.
This zealous action was described by the Drug Foundation as a witch hunt. This was written in a Radio New Zealand article in 2016:
Housing New Zealand has ignored repeated warnings from senior government officials that the meth testing guidelines it was using to evict its tenants were only meant for houses where the drug had been manufactured.
The Ministry of Health has repeatedly told Housing New Zealand that its methamphetamine guidelines were to be applied only for the clean up of former meth labs, and were not intended to monitor homes where the drug has been smoked.
Yet hundreds of tenants have been evicted from their state homes, after Housing New Zealand detected tiny traces of methamphetamine in them, and are often made to pay tens of thousands of dollars in clean up fees.
The ministry has just published new guidelines saying meth can be found at three to four times higher than the level being used as a reason to evict tenants.
Director of protection, regulation and assurance, Dr Stewart Jessamine, said the ministry had repeatedly made clear it had concerns about the way Housing New Zealand was using the ministry’s guidelines.
“The guidelines are very clear – that they are only for use in houses where methamphetamine has been manufactured. We have pointed out (to Housing New Zealand) and communicated that these guidelines are clearly for use in houses where meth has been manufactured,” Dr Jessamine said.
Putting it as simply as I can if a former meth lab was cleaned so that it met the permitted level it could confidently be said that the levels of all of the toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process would be safe. But for houses where methamphetamine was consumed but not manufactured the level was way lower than it had to be.
This did not prevent the last Government from creating a moral panic over the presence of methamphetamine. And for harassing state house tenants at the same time.
Paula Bennett herself was in the centre of the get tough policy. The Herald quoted her in this article in 2016:
“Any situation where methamphetamine use has been found in social housing is unacceptable, but the number of young children in this case makes it particularly distressing,” [Bennett] said.
Almost 400 Housing New Zealand properties are uninhabitable as a result of P, according to the most recent figures.
Most contaminations are a result of P use, rather than the houses being used as P labs.
In the last six months alone, Housing New Zealand has spent $5.8 million on testing and remediation.
“Housing New Zealand is taking a much stricter approach to detecting and dealing with serious drug use in its properties,” Mrs Bennett said.
“Frontline staff are better trained to look out for contamination, use and manufacturing. If a property is found to be contaminated, the tenancy will be terminated.”
Testing properties for methamphetamine and cleaning contaminated ones was costly and time-consuming, she said.
“When we have hundreds of people waiting for social housing, it’s disappointing people break the law and deprive others of homes.”
The meth testing and building industries certainly had a great time from the policy. It is estimated that Housing Corp spent $100 million on testing and repairs.
“… Housing New Zealand are changing their policy and they are moving to a new approach for dealing with this issue that I think is more compassionate and more considered.”
The minister said if methamphetamine traces were found now support, not eviction, would be the first approach.
“Over the last three years Housing New Zealand, on behalf of the tax payer, has spent $75 million on testing and remediating houses that are or were allegedly contaminated.”
Mr Twyford said this had left hundreds of properties empty.
“Some 900 properties have been left vacant in the middle of a housing crisis on the basis of a methamphetamine contamination standard that cannot distinguish between a place that is genuinely contaminated from the manufacture of methamphetamine, and would endanger the health of someone living in that house, and an infinitesimally small residue that would pose no risk.”
He said a kind of moral panic over methamphetamine had taken hold.
“I think that has been drummed up and exploited by a meth testing industry that saw an opportunity to make a dollar.
And yesterday the PM’s chief science officer Peter Gluckman also rubbished the former Government’s policy. Again from Radio New Zealand:
The country’s top scientists say New Zealand has been gripped by hysteria and are recommending people do not test their homes for meth – unless the Police specifically indicate it was a meth lab.
A new report by the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman found there’s never been a documented case of someone getting sick from third-hand exposure to meth.
Sir Peter said there has been an inexplicable leap in logic in New Zealand in which clean-up standards for meth labs jumped to become a measure for passive exposure.
“There’s absolutely no evidence in the medical literature anywhere in the world, of anybody being harmed by passive exposure to methamphetamine at any level,” Sir Peter said.
“We can’t find one case in the medical literature, we can’t find one case by talking to experts where there is evidence of harm … it makes no sense.”
The “inexplicable leap in logic” that Gluckman talks about is the political utility for National to be “tough on crime” and beat up on poor people at the same time. Their supporters expect it. Sure a housing crisis was made much worse by boarding up multiple houses and hundreds of ordinary kiwis were terrorised and had their lives disrupted but this appeared to be outweighed by the political benefit of having something tough to say when Ministers were asked what they were doing about the methamphetamine crisis.
I am pleased it is over. But National and particularly Paula Bennett need to wear the opprobrium that a reality and science based analysis of the real situation is generating.