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Institutional poverty

Written By: - Date published: 12:34 pm, August 3rd, 2019 - 32 comments
Categories: housing, housing insulation, poverty, Social issues, tenants' rights, uncategorized - Tags: ,

In 2016 the National government mandated that all rental properties had to have ceiling and floor insulation (thank-you Greens!), unless it was impractical do so. The deadline was July 1st 2019.

Stuff are reporting that Christchurch City Council have deferred insulating 370 social housing units with flat ceilings, using the ‘impractical’ escape clause. CCC claim it can’t easily be done. Tenant Lynda McKenzie went ahead and got the work done herself. Another tenant got a quote from a builder and insulation contractor, who said it could be done now.

I don’t know if this has been legally tested yet, but the exemption clause in the legislation is vague,

Access is impracticable or unsafe
Some areas of some homes may be impracticable or unsafe to access due to their design, limited access, potential for substantial damage, or health and safety reasons. There is an exemption for parts of homes where a professional installer is unable to access and/or insulate, until this becomes possible (for example when a property is re-roofed).

Quite clearly there are no safety or access issues, but it would require the council to install a new ceiling. So will CCC get a free pass on this?

The council has a plan to meet the Healthy Homes legislation over the next four years and seem to be saying that some of the units will get ceiling insulation as part of that. But it looks like a purely financial issue and that CCC are using the vagueness of the legislation to circumvent their responsibilities. Upshot is the cost, which has to be paid from rentals (CCC can’t use rates*).

What I’d like to point to here are two things have happened within the institution of the council.

One is that it was deemed too expensive to provide the basic necessities of wellbeing. We’re not talking anything flash, just the right to live in a warm and dry house and maintain one’s health. One of the tradies in the Stuff video quotes a government report that for every dollar spent on insulation there was a seven dollar pay back in health benefits. Obviously this is not a new situation, but in 2016 notice was given that it was no longer acceptable to let tenants live cold and damp houses, so where is the changed financial plan for social housing in Christchurch?

The other is that someone at the council came up with the idea that covering the windows with bubble wrap in the middle of winter was a good idea. You can choose between warmish/dryish or being able to let sun and light in and see out the windows. But it’s not really a choice because it’s a shitty system of adaptation reserved for the most poor in NZ. As McKenzie points out, depression and other mental health issues are high. Poverty is a major contributor to poor mental health and this is Christchurch were many people are still recovering from the the quakes, and now there is stress and for some trauma from the Mosque shootings.

There’s another recovery, a theme running through NZ politics now. How do we recover from nine years of the neoliberal social engineering of the public services by Key’s National government. We are seeing this across a range of central government services, where it appears likely that some of the staff within those organisations are working from a mindset that doesn’t support Labour’s wellbeing vision, or is actively working against it. This tenancy situation in Christchurch is not a central government issue, so we can neatly sidestep the growing preference for blaming Labour for things that are hard to fix. Instead we can look at why an institution would be making these kinds of decisions. This is about values and priorities and how we can change our institutions so that they operate primarily from a place of care.

Which isn’t to say that the people involved are necessarily bad. I frequently come across good people who are struggling to work in systems that are now solidly designed for right wing neoliberalism. But there is an issue of the philosophy of the power holders in those institutions, and how communities might effect change in mindsets so that the baselines become the wellbeing of people and the environments we live in.

*updated: TS commenter Craig H notes there is no legal reason that the council cannot pay for insulation, but it’s convention not to.

32 comments on “Institutional poverty”

  1. Ad 1

    Good test for Minister and local MP Megan Woods, against a Labour-led Council and Mayor seeking del-election.

    • Dukeofurl 1.1

      Labour Led Council ?

      Election results from 2016 show only 7 of the  16 wards have People Choice ( -Labour) councillors


      • Ad 1.1.1

        Mayor Dalziel is a Labour member and ex Labour government Minister. 

        She is also standing again this time. 

        • Dukeofurl

          Shes not a councillor and my numbers show 7 /16 were labour ticket. You describe the 'labour led council' ,separately to the Mayor.

          being  on the labour ticket is a 'thing', requiring endorsement from the regional labour organisation.

          • Ad

            The Mayor leads the Council. 

            That's the leadership. 

            It's different to a majority. 

            • Dukeofurl

              Mayor is just a vote , ask Phil Goff  how  that works.

              Leadership only works like that when the leader has the majority votes to back it.

              Pelosi will tell you how that works

              Labour doesnt have a majority on Christchurch council … havent you looked at the election results, it was only  36 months ago.

              • Marcus Morris

                Ad always has difficulty with basic arithmetic – especially when it doesn't suit his argument.

  2. Rosemary McDonald 2

    The other is that someone at the council came up with the idea that covering the windows with bubble wrap in the middle of winter was a good idea.

    My immediate thought is that someone should pop around to their place to see how its done…

    Lynda McKenzie gets kudos for her stand on this.  Many others would have sorted their own shit out and left the rest to it….but there she is. yes

    Thanks weka for this post, unfathomable that the Council thinks they can get away with this.

  3. The previous Govt took independence away,  helped some to free water and ignored others.  Now it has been passed back to the Locals with  "Now it is your problem"

    Of course trolls will say… "Still blaming the last Govt?"  Why ever not??  

  4. Sacha 4

    Yes, the instrumental neoliberal culture has seeped in to local government like every other part of NZ since 1984.

    Even requiring all council managers and staff to use the word "people" in their reports and emails might be useful. Not 370 dwellings, but 500 people affected. Real people cold, not flat ceilings avoiding expense. Different day to day lives for 500 people, not operating debt targets maintained.

    Connecting the actions of each person in a team with their outcomes is a function of leadership. NZ suffers widespread weak leadership ability, yet we are doing next to nothing to fix that.

    • weka 4.1

      I like that about people. I hesitated a little when I used the word unit, because that's a word for people now.

      Do you think the leadership thing is in part because we are always looking for someone to blame?

      • Sacha 4.1.1

        NZ has consistently scored low on leadership compared with other nations. We have too many emotionally stunted people with poorly-developed skills in positions of power in business, community and civic life. Not accepting accountability reflects that.

        Must frustrate the crap out of the skilled, emotionally-intelligent young people whose initiatives are disproportionately thwarted by insecure old men who refuse to improve themselves.

        • weka

          That's harsh.

          "…people with poorly-developed skills in positions of power in business, community and civic life"

          How did that come about?

          We also have a culture that likes to bash people, so I think this is a factor. If people are routinely blamed, ridiculed and abused for their leadership, they're going to try and protect themselves. I don't think it's always been like that.

          • Sacha

            How did that come about?

            Because weak leaders prefer to be surrounded by weak leaders, and our organisational/societal cultures have allowed that to outweigh performance.

            No idea why that dynamic would be pronounced here as opposed to other places in the world. However I am hopeful the tide is turning and we are seeing the death throes of the feeble codgerati play out in public.

            A few harsh kicks up the jacksie may help that along.

          • Stuart Munro.

            It was one of my impressions of the Gallipoli experience – that it showed the people on the ground performing relatively well given the circumstances, but let down by leadership. There are a few other examples too; for all that Muldoon aspired to emulate the success of Lee Kuan Yew, he adopted few elements of Meiji's reforms and was unable to produce results commensurate with his ambitions. Lange is often represented as a leader of sorts, but he was led down the garden path by Douglas, and fell in love with his own spin doctor; these are the elements of a cautionary tale rather than those of significant leadership. I believe in fact NZ produces as many skilled leaders as any other society, but the reigning cliques are by no means keen to let them through.

            • Dukeofurl

              You forget , the Labour party usually follows 'Cabinet Government' , you dont have the numbers in cabinet it doesnt happen. There can be  some blips to that  but wouldnt be that common.

              • Stuart Munro.

                One of the elements of leadership is strategic vision – which includes knowing when to fight over issues. With hindsight Lange would have removed Douglas much earlier and contested his follies more vigorously. He might well have succeeded, and spared his party three terms in the wilderness as voters punished Labour for their treachery.

                • Dukeofurl

                  Douglas had a lot of support in Caucus at the time, I dont think it was that easy. Those other MPs had  embraced the 'big idea' of the time, Neo liberalism and thought it would work.  Some not all  didnt consider it would be so easily captured by  the 10%  for their own ends. Some wanted to be part of that 10%

                  • Stuart Munro.

                    Yeah – Palmer is due a lot more of the blame than he usually gets, the creature.

    • Rosemary McDonald 4.2

      "Responsibility" has almost become a dirty word…yet what is everyone's responsibility ends up being no one's. If strong leadership means being held accountable and responsible for poor outcomes then someone with a 'the buck stops here' sign on their door should be a given in any organisation.

      Bring on the benign dictatorship.

  5. Craig H 5

    I'll note that CCC can absolutely pay for social housing out of rates if they have to – it's a convention not to, not a legal requirement. The convention arises from a compromise to get agreement to continue as a social housing provider in the 90s. The houses are owned by a trust, so this would entail a grant to the trust, but it's not unlawful to do so.

    • weka 5.1

      Thanks! I'll add that to the post.

    • Dukeofurl 5.2

      It seems you went a bit too far saying the Council isnt directly responsible for major upgrades for its houses.

      "Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust manages all tenancies for the Council"

      The Council still owns all the houses  but leases them to the Trust

      "The Trust is responsible for tenancy management, rent-setting and the day-to-day maintenance of units, while major repairs, renewals and the development of new social housing remain the Council's domain.

      God knows why they feel the social houses have to be self financing but a football stadium- with a roof- isnt.


      • Craig H 5.2.1

        Fair point about the ownership vs lease and terms of the lease, but there is no requirement either way to avoid spending rates on the units, whether it's directly or via grants to the trust.

        CCC do spend some ratepayer money on the houses, by paying the interest on loans rather requiring the trust to do so, but this is very recent (and may be a future commitment rather than immediate).

    • Graeme 5.3

      There's also a principle in the rating legislation that rates have to be collected in the area and for the purpose that they are spent.  Hence the breakdown on your rates demand, that ties into the spending forecasts in the  Council's Annual Plan.  Nit pickers who submit on these plans have a great time when things don't add up at the end of the year or money is diverted to other things.

      I can understand CCC being very averse to using general rates for this, they will be taken apart by the user pays nit pickers at the next annual plan.

      Back in the bad old day Queenstown council used to pay for all the general costs of tourism, like toilets on the side of the road, by differentialing the shit out of the accomodation sectors toilets. Along came the neo-lib changes to rating powers act and some hotel cost accountant did some sums and discovered QLDC was getting a lot more, like nearly twice, what it cost to run the sewers in rates from them. So the differential went of the hotel shitters and now we’re having to petition government for a stand alone bed tax to pay for the toilets on the side of the road, amongst other things.

      So there may be a legal sanction there as well, emphasis on the may.

      • Craig H 5.3.1

        The main point would be allocating money correctly in the annual and/or long term plan(s), but it seems unlikely that an emergency allocation to comply with legislation would be illegal, or at least would make it difficult to sanction the council in that case.

  6. greywarshark 6

    Helen Kelly's 2013 Ode to Phil Twyford in the Older Trio above is well said.

  7. JohnSelway 7

    I guess if it’s too hot you get a USB fan and a bucket of cold water

  8. Pat 8

    I wonder why local Councils are providing social housing….. especially without the benefit of sovereign currency?

  9. Anthony Rimell 9

    I’m running on the local Labour ticket in Christchurch in the Riccarton Ward. Today I visited one of the Council-owned complexes. A mix of insulated an non-insulated Houses. The number of older tenants who said they freeze at night and have water streaming down the windows early morning was distressing. 


    Simply put, this is not acceptable. The Council needs to take the next step and insulate ALL their properties properly. Even the most conservative candidates running this year accept this. So there is no real reason other than ideology stopping the next Council from sorting this out before Winter 2020. 

  10. McFlock 10

    370*4000 would make it awfully attractive for a local law firm to do the work on a no-win, no-cost but 10% of the win basis. Take a couple of hours to do site visits in the same location, document and confirm the insulation lack, start off form letters on the process, and bob's your uncle.

    Seriously, CCC start getting a few dozen formal actions, they'll start insulating doubletime. This is disgusting.

    • weka 10.1

      I suspect this is what it will take. There's been quite a few cases taken to the Tenancy Tribunal already, but I don't know if any are from Chch social housing tenants, nor where the Tribunal is falling on the exemption clauses. That's the thing I'd really like to know.

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