Hamilton City Council currently has plans to sell of its remaining pensioner housing stock. It already sold off a block of them in 2012. Of those sold, only 12 out of 53 units are available for seniors to rent at affordable rates. This is because 27 were sold as there was no social service provider able to buy them. Of the ones that were bought by Habitat for Humanity, well they needed an interest-free loan from a funder to even do that.
So now Council want to sell the rest. Here are the current proposals:
invite social housing providers to buy its pensioner housing for on-going use as social housing
if not sold to social housing providers after six months, offer the pensioner housing for sale on the open market
no longer provide pensioner housing as a Council service
There has been considerable protest, including this rally in the form a funeral for the housing stock. Submissions on the proposal closed on 31 October: there were 275 against and only 15 in support. You can find my submission here, hardly a masterpiece but it was done late on 30th October, and at least I had my opposition officially noted.
So today were the oral presentations to Council. It was a pretty hostile environment – questions from Councillors & the Mayor were leading and often pretty aggressive. As a process that is supposed to encourage the public to have their say, it wasn’t encouraging at all. Making any kind of public submission tends to be pretty daunting for most people and you would think that Councillors would try to make it easier. But I guess they were too busy thinking we were trying to score political points to actually listen to our genuine concerns.
Today I talked about the fact that Council did in fact have a responsibility to provide social housing. Council is responsible to & for the people living in the city, and there is clearly a need for such housing.
The private sector doesn’t provide adequately, because we find that vulnerable people are living in poor quality housing with inadequate maintenance which leads to poor health and educational outcomes.
The need for social housing for the elderly will rise, and not just because of an aging population. There are other factors such as:
All of these factors have already had an impact, because we know that currently we have the lowest rate of home ownership ever and those rates continue to fall. So it is much more likely that these people will reach old age still in poverty and without savings.
The sale of pensioner housing is a short-term measure to pay off current debt, and there is no indication that Council has in place any planning for long-term future social housing needs.
I accept that this is not just a local government responsibility, and I know that one of the drivers of the sale is central government policy to no longer give housing subsidies to any local government nor to any CCO. Our Councillors need to be raising their voices against this policy, in a very visible way. They are not without power, they can co-ordinate with Councils in other areas and provide a strong objection. It is the job of Councillors to advocate for the people of their city and I can’t understand why they wouldn’t do that.
Other Councils are trying to find ways to work around the central government funding policy and this Council should be talking to them to find solutions.
If we lose the social housing stock, then there will be costs to ratepayers. It’s nonsense to say that the sale of this stock will save money. If there isn’t sufficient safe and adequate housing, then there will be increased health costs that have to be paid for. Or accommodation costs will be passed on to ratepayers from central government in the form of a higher level of accommodation supplements. Either way, they will have to pay so it is false to say that there are going to be savings. The only difference is that if the housing stock is sold, then those costs will be more hidden and indirect, and therefore easier to ignore.
As I’ve said above, previous sales have led to the loss of homes available for housing the elderly. So where are these people supposed to go?