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House Tales.

Written By: - Date published: 3:01 pm, March 22nd, 2016 - 32 comments
Categories: class, class war, cost of living, discrimination, families, housing, human rights, local government, political alternatives, political parties, quality of life, Social issues, tenants' rights, useless, welfare - Tags: , , , , , ,

Otago Regional Council bought some houses some years back under some compulsory purchasing order. My understanding was that this was because of flood risk. They then rented out these houses at market rates. A friend and her daughter moved in to one of those houses about ten years ago and made it home. Then, out of the blue a few months before Christmas, she was told the lease was being terminated and she would have to move out before the New Year. The reason for the termination was simply that ORC were seeking to sell the house on the open market. So my friend is now living in a single bedroom of a shared flat in the middle of town. How to put this? She ain’t a student. She ain’t a ’20 something’ who is yet to settle on some direction in life. Her ORC rental was more than a house; it was her home.

Last year The Timaru Herald reported that “Oamaru couple Lesley Sweeney, 67, and Henry Watson, 76, may have to leave the state house that Sweeney has called home for 35 years because their tenancy has come under review by the Ministry of Social Development (MSD)”

I haven’t followed up on the story and don’t know if they had to vacate their home in the end, because that’s beside the point when we’re talking of people and their homes and their sense of security – of, if you like, basic human decency.

Last week the Dominion Post reported that “Seatoun Housing New Zealand tenants Vladimir Zvegintsev and Tatiana Zvegintseva are being kicked out of their home of 18 years and they don’t know why.”

And so it goes. I suspect that even a cursory on-line search would reveal case after case after case of people being kicked out of their homes, or being subjected to cruel and unnecessary levels of stress and uncertainty. It’s crap.

By way of comparison on how council or state tenants are treated here and elsewhere, I’m going to eke out something I touched on yesterday. I’ll run through the quick version. The parents of my brother-in-law emigrated to Canada. They returned to Scotland over fifteen years ago. Around 2000, they qualified for, and secured a council house in the town they had originally emigrated from.

For council house tenants, it runs like this – as long as the tenant doesn’t break the terms of the lease, then the lease is for life. My brother-in-law’s mother subsequently died and no-one sought to move his father along. And then, just a few weeks back, his father died.

And here’s what I’m taking as a mark of basic humanity from a state that would seem to genuinely serve the interests of the society it governs. Had my brother in law or one of his siblings been resident in the house for the previous year, then the lease would have passed on to them. It’s called allowing people to have a sense of security and a home.

Yet here in New Zealand, it would appear that ‘home’ is only for the rich. It would appear that home-owners aside, people are to be shunted and shifted, stressed and discarded like irrelevant pieces of clutter.

New Zealand, at some point or points in the past, was presumably presented with some voting choice on what direction society would be taken by government. And here we are; a society of people, that seem on so many fronts, to be treated as a polythene bag of stinking, sweating dog shit by those who would presume to govern on our behalf.

How did this state of affairs come into being? Why is it tolerated? Where is the out rage? Where is the political party, engaging with the edifice of poisonous misanthropy that has apparently become New Zealand’s new normal, undertaking to shove it into one of those deep Pacific off-shore trenches?

It’s apparent from reading this and other blogs, or just through talking to people, that many people in New Zealand are appalled by the way things are. But there’s an air of impotent resignation. We need some would be government to ‘get with the programme’. We need a governing entity that will stop with the tinkering around the edges while suggesting we vote for some half arsed, essentially apologist, bullshit. If we are going to settle for state governance of society, we need a political party that will speak for the silent without compromise; that will translate our deep discontent into a solid, no holds barred policy platform that’s an attractive and viable voting option.

New Zealand could be the home of a decent, humane society. Is it going to happen? Do we want it to happen?

32 comments on “House Tales. ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    New Zealand could be the home of a decent, humane society. Is it going to happen? Do we want it to happen?

    Probably not because we’ve become selfish over the last few years after the 4th Labour government promoted greed over community.

    • Bill 1.1

      -sigh – and you don’t think Thatcher promoted the same in the UK?

      That Labour government did what it did. It can’t forever be an excuse and a cop out.

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        I’m not using it as an excuse nor a cop out.

        I’m pointing out how we became selfish arseholes more concerned with cutting taxes than taking care of each other. To reverse attitude we need to reverse that direction.

        How we do that is by finding way to make people care again. IMO, that starts at the bottom. We make sure that the least and most vulnerable of us has enough to live on so that they don’t have to scrimp and save just to have food on the plate. Take that stressor away and people with very little become less selfish.

        At the same time though we have to address inequality and the only way to do that is to get rid of the rich. And they’re the ones with the wealth and power and their selfishness is driven by greed and not by uncertainty. So, we need to make it so that greed doesn’t pay. That means getting rid of the bludging means that have been put in place over the centuries such as interest rates and shareholding. Make it so that the only source of income, other than the UBI, is from personally working.

        • Macro

          Yes – this country lost a huge amount in the mean “user pays” philosophy of Douglas and Richardson – most importantly its soul. That is why shallow people like Key with not a shred of compassion for the people for whom he is elected to be responsible for still garner a popular vote. The sheeple now only see money as the defining characteristic of the successful person.
          Thacher did to Britain what Douglas and Richardson did to NZ but it was never as complete as here. We opened up our boarders to all and sundry imports. NZ was regarded as the prime example of the neo-liberal dream economy, and we have been paying for it ever since.

          • RedLogix

            I’ve just come off a very sad encounter in another forum on another topic altogether. Same story, same symptoms. It’s not just the mean, narrowness of spirit, the elevation of the power and meaning of money above all else … it’s how it gets twisted into a virtue.

            • Draco T Bastard

              It’s not just the mean, narrowness of spirit, the elevation of the power and meaning of money above all else … it’s how it gets twisted into a virtue.

              Yep. The rich are seen as virtuous no matter their actions.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.2

        It can’t forever be an excuse and a cop out.

        Especially if that obscures what’s actually going on: diminished trust is a known consequence a rise in the GINI. The implication being that lowering the GINI can repair the damage, despite dire predictions of some sort of irreversible philosophical shift.

  2. Ad 2

    Bill you have been doing excellent posts recently on the actual damage of capitalism and capitalist-enabling governments onto actual human beings, both local and central.

    Keep it up.

    They are a sharp tonic into my world.

  3. Olwyn 3

    Bill, thanks for pointing out that other places, not greatly different politically from this one, are still able to adequately house their people. NZ is currently moving towards the Britain of the early 19th century – land clearances with neither urban factories nor colonies to absorb the uprooted people. Your last post about glasses and this one about houses are both parts of the same ugly story. As you say, it is not inevitable, and it is time New Zealand realised this. We do not have to be the equivalent of a dead bird for Key to proudly deposit on the international corporates’ doorstep.

    • miravox 3.1

      “… other places, not greatly different politically from this one, are still able to adequately house their people.”

      Each time this topic comes up, I link to commentary on Vienna’s housing policy, so here’s another

      City owns 25% housing
      Rent Controls @ 25% income
      Long-tern tenure
      Control over/partnering with private development
      Links between housing, green space and public transport

      It seems doable when the policies are laid out like that, ay?

      • Olwyn 3.1.1

        Thanks for the link miravox. Yes, it does look doable – the missing ingredient in NZ appears to be political will. The neolibs have done a great job on this country, picking up on a latent mean-spirited streak and relentlessly nourishing it. The result is that decency now demands justification while callousness and predatory behaviour are the default, needing no explanation.

      • Bill 3.1.2

        Interesting, given that NZ originally wanted state houses seeded through various areas of the cities to avoid the development of ‘ghettos’ …

        …the city’s income restrictions for subsidized units (20 – 25% of household income) only apply when families first move in. Residents are never required to move out, even if household income levels increase in the following years. This arrangement results in a substantial number of moderate-income residents living in subsidized housing, and this mixing together of residents with different income levels helps with social integration. Since the city has a large stock of affordable housing, these middle-income residents typically do not crowd out lower-income residents. Because the city continues to add new units that are subsidized, about 5,000 annually, and available to lower income residents, housing developments do not devolve into middle-class enclaves nor do they become stigmatized concentrations of poverty.

        • Rosie

          Yes, it’s an equalising social approach and a way to resist distinction between people of different social strata. Creating competition for housing by promoting it purely as a market drive commodity is a way to create division in society. This Austrian approach could be seen as neutralising that social tension.

          I like it. Exposes neighbours to a fuller flavour community. We can learn from others instead of dwelling only in our own inward looking social group.

        • miravox

          Yeah, I remember the NZ ‘pepper potting’ approach, it’s hard to believe that this was ever a policy goal.

          Vienna isn’t perfect, there’s concern at the moment about ‘no go’ areas in an outer suburb – social tensions with the children of refugees from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Lessons to learn for this new refugee intake… and they are being learned by the local government. Just have to hope it’s enough to counteract the shift to the far right nationally, sigh.

          But the only serious criticism of seen of the housing policies is from the UK landlord association (ha!) and this was based on rent controls (private housing is also subject to rent controls – and these are extensive) reducing the incentive for people to move on from apartments that were too big for them (make of that explanation what you will). Also they don’t like the length of tenure provisions and the rights of tenants to treat the home they live in as if it is their own home.

          A combination of housing, open space, energy and transport policies that keep this place one of the most livable and affordable cities, not just for ex-pats in Mercer surveys, but also for locals and affordable housing policy is at the heart of it.

      • Rosie 3.1.3

        Thanks for that very interesting link Miravox.

        Recently there was an article in the Dominion Post about the Wellington City Council’s plans to “play the market” in regard to housing development. At first it sounded quite alarming given we have a pro development right wing council combined with ongoing social and environmental problems with the way in which housing development has been undertaken in the northern burbs, ie, little or no community consultation, non notified consents for large scale subdivisions, next to nothing environmental protection, no climate change strategy and new suburbs placed far away from bus services and amenities.

        However, after speaking with our Deputy Mayor (as I have done over the last 18 months in regard to development issues) it would appear they have genuine plans for providing reduced cost housing with a minimal profit margin for the council. It’s just in the ideas stage at the moment.

        The Viennese housing programme is EXACTLY the type of programme the WCC should look to for inspiration. There may be an opportunity to make a break a way from unattainable market driven accommodation on a small scale at least in our city – to have an example like Vienna could be encouraging for the planners.

        • miravox

          Hi Rosie, I wondered how the development you were concerned about was going. I really hope the reduced housing that was mentioned is real. Too many times it becomes all to difficult to resist the development money when private developers are involved.

          I once worked on city council project for a housing development in the UK. in the end, no matter how many times the council reduced the social housing component, the developer in this public-private ‘partnership’ said they couldn’t make the return on investment they needed, especially since the council were looking to introduce environmental design as well. What any eyeopener as to how these people work! The project failed.

          • Brendon Harre

            The problem in the UK is the constant increase in land prices due to regulating so much land out of use. This has created a pressure cooker environment for prices. The Germanic countries do not do this. So it is cheaper to develop. Note compulsory acquisition does not help if land prices have already escalated as the authority has to compensate the land owner a fair amount. Which the courts will interpret as market value.

            • miravox

              “The Germanic countries do not do this. So it is cheaper to develop”

              It’s not quite that simple in Vienna – even in Austria, Vienna is a bit of an exception. The city controls where developments will happen. In that sense it regulates land use very strongly. It often develops through public private partnerships. e.g. http://www.aspern-seestadt.at/

              There are also incentives and assistance for private owners in the inner city to maintain and renovate their apartment blocks. The city has a housing research department and think-tank to ensure urban/housing requirements are identified and planning moves forward within that framework. For a flavour of that see e.g. http://www.europaforum.or.at/index.php?id=81&lang_id=en (apart from this site, most of the info is in German so I’ve not linked).

          • Rosie

            Hey there miravox.

            Ugh! The problems are ongoing on our development. I am in constant contact with council and councillors (dep mayor is also northern ward councillor) about any number of things, eg, tonight was about yet another breach of consent conditions, a familiar one, construction noise and construction site stereo noise outside of allowable hours – but their policy as it happens is a “guideline only” and not enforceable.

            This is only a small part, however, of the whole dysfunctional approach to development. Just an aside to the worrisome relationship between council and developers.The greater problem exists in the entire northern burbs and is more to do with environmental destruction and a no win situation for residents who need affordable housing near amenities. (I’ve even tried to engage Wellington region Labour MP’s but have never received a response)

            That must have been frustrating witnessing the failure of something that could have been beneficial to both environment and people in the UK. One thing that puts the brakes on social benefit in public private partnerships is the need/greed of the private enterprise part of it. Theres always going to be a “but”. They’re not there out of the goodness of their hearts yet central and local governments always court them. A cynic would say they are attempting to reduce their responsibility to those they claim to serve.

  4. Brendon Harre 4

    It is not right and all it would take is political will to fix. Which ever party has the fairest most effective housing policies will get my vote.

  5. Macro 5

    can’t find a potted summary of Labours housing policy online apart from wading thru a 64 page policy platform of all policy.
    As far as I can see only the Greens talk about secure housing for people in respect to the issue raised by Bill in this post.
    NZ first is directed at home ownership and Labour want to build 100,000 new homes.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      100,000 new homes that you will need to be on $75K or $100K pa to afford.

      • millsy 5.1.1

        All these affordable houses seem to have unaffordable rents/prices.

        • Colonial Viper

          To be even vaguely affordable, a house should be priced at no more than 3x to 4x a workers income – MAX.

          So who is going to be able to afford a “cheap” $400K house with an $80K deposit?

          No one earning $40K or $50K pa.

  6. James 6

    a few months before Christmas

    So… September/October.

  7. millsy 7

    The only people benefiting from all this are private landlords.

  8. Lucy 8

    The points that appears to be lost are:
    1) these house were acquired because they are within a floodplain and now the Otago Council is reselling them. They used to have an obligation to resell to previous owners at the cost they bought them – this does not appear to be happening.
    2) Because house prices have gone up does not mean risk of floods has disappeared any one buying these houses will find an out clause in their insurance for flooding.
    3) Without insurance no bank would lend on these therefore the only people who could buy would be cashed up speculators
    4) The fourth Labour government promoted greed and the public of NZ lapped it up with a speed and voracity that was only duplicated in the UK and consequently we have the same problems and the same symptoms now.

    • Bill 8.1

      It wasn’t the focus of the post, but the ORC situation is probably well worth delving into. Something feels very, very wrong about the whole thing.

      Why market rents for 10 years on properties that were (apparently) vulnerable and that were (presumably) bought at a a lower ‘compulsory purchase’ price?

      Why the compulsory purchase in the first place if they were then fine to rent out for 10 years?

      Why not continue to rent to the sitting tenants after completion of the remedial work on the surrounding land?

      Failing that, and a far from desirable second option, why no ‘first refusal’ offer to either sitting tenants or previous owners after remedial work on the surrounding land had been completed?

      My understanding is that other properties in the same valley were bought too and rented out at market rates. But being older dwellings they are being allowed to disintegrate. We’re looking at serious dampness and zero maintenance. Finish further flood protection and flick the land to mates?

  9. Rosie 9

    Thanks for the two posts, on your glasses/WINZ issue and on housing. (Yes, I did see the link to dentistry on the NHS in Scotland and did almost weep) It’s a nice change and important to get insight into actual lives from a personal perspective. It’s what matters in the end. We can talk about the admin end of things like parliamentary politics forever but it won’t change anything.

    Much rather see organising and reaction and demand for change from the ground up, not the top down. Thats why Anti Government February (lots of booing in different social settings, throwing stuff at MP’s, blocking the Akld CBD roading for hours etc) was refreshing. That was action.

    Keep up with the agitation and we will get change. And to keep that change from being insipid and lacklustre, those of us who are members of opposition parties need to keep up the pressure on our own parties. Change has to be big and meaningful.

    “New Zealand could be the home of a decent, humane society. Is it going to happen? Do we want it to happen?”

    Yep, we can make it happen.

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