I was impressed by Phil Twyford’s analysis of the Government’s housing policies announced in the budget. I thought his best point was that only this Government could announce a housing affordability policy with the eviction of 3000 state housing tenants as its centre piece!
I know there are some that support these evictions on the basis that there are people on the waiting list that are “more needy” than some of the existing tenants. My view is that the income related rents policy (market rents apply to those that have improved circumstances since moving into a house), is the fairest way to treat these families.
Those on the “eviction” list are likely to be paying near to market rents but that does not mean they will cope in the over inflated private market. Pushing these people into the private market will increase housing pressures, cost Government money through housing supplement grants, and fails to recognise that a house is more than shelter – it is a home around which families join communities, enrol in schools, support neighbours, grow gardens etc. Tenants should be protected from unilateral eviction from any rental housing including state housing.
The threshold to qualify to get on the waiting list for a house is very high – in fact only 4,500 families are on the list under the Governments current policy. Building additional houses for all these families is achievable and would be a significant investment in both renewing the housing stock and taking some heat out of the housing market – evicting tenants is the cheap and nasty option!
Phil’s second good point was to recall why Labour developed the concept of state provided housing in the first place, and why it built the first state house. This was done at the time to deal with the widespread slum housing, and in recognition of the social problems associated with poor housing. It recognised that the State was the only institution in a position to do this work in the interest of the New Zealand community. This reasoning has not changed.
Phil’s description of the current housing crisis facing thousands of Kiwi’s shows the policies are still however incomplete. Continued housing un-affordability entrenches inequality. Lack of sufficient State supply (exacerbated by the Governments undercover selling policy) has seen poverty related diseases grow. Over 900,000 homes remain without insulation and also tenants find themselves with very few protections against eviction, few rules for rental property standards and as we have seen in Christchurch, little redress for profiteering. These factors combined makes renting a precarious exercise!
Phil has a good analysis of the Government Budget announcement regarding the policy to shift thousands of state houses to the community sector and what the transferring the job of assessing eligibility to the Ministry of Social Development means (I know now I am sounding sycophantic to Phil but it really was a good presentation – stay with me!).
Basically this will be the end of Housing NZ as we know it. In this new model Housing NZ will be just another tenancy manager competing with the NGOs. Obviously the long term plan is to move Government out of housing provision altogether.
The Community Sector is being used as the dumping ground and will be left with the unpalatable eviction job. Those groups that traditionally support the most vulnerable will find themselves with a conflict of interest – they will have to do the Government bidding (kicking out families they are supporting). And there is no guarantee they will have any funds to maintain these houses or in fact that they will be compelled to retain them.
Housing provision based on low rental charges requires long term planning and investment. It is unclear what if any, community organisations will manage this. As we see with much community provision primarily contracted to Government, they are often caught up in under-funding traps being forced to offer services with compromised standards or underpay their workers. For even the most competent groups that take on this task they run the risk of reputation damage as they compromise their principles and as their purpose is distorted.
The last good point Phil makes is that the policy announced in the budget regarding house ownership is based on the premise that it is really a planning regulation failure causing the shortage and driving up the price, rather than, as the research suggests, a problem that includes incentives to speculate in the market (no tax on capital gain, huge government subsides towards rent), high cost of building (monopoly practice here?), and low wages in relation to the cost of houses.
The budget announcement of increased house building on the outskirts of Auckland does not say why or how these houses will be affordable or what that means? The reality is this land could be being simply freed up for the speculators to build houses at market rents. It is all very shonky. In fact the legislation to implement this policy which fast tracks housing consents (have we learned nothing from the leaky homes?) simply says “Developers may be required to give consideration to affordable housing.”
These polices on housing combined will not address the housing issues in this country. We as a community need better solutions and some of these are contained in the Labour and Green housing, economic and industrial relations policies and I hope more is to come particularly in relation to state provision. But at the moment National is in power and the policies they have announced will not only have extremely negative impacts on the issue, making it worse for many families immediately, but it will see long term damage again done to the State housing system and see Council and Government owned land sold off to property developers making home ownership polices harder to implement in the future. And all of this done under a banner of “increasing housing affordability”