National has a plan to sell off at least some of the state’s emergency housing. This is a plan based in doctrine rather than reality. The intent appears to be to that by divestment of the housing stock to other organisations these organisations will be able to provide enhanced housing services to the country’s poor. The intent is based on hope than rather than analysis. Government owned emergency housing has worked well ever since the first Labour Government. Society has not changed that much to suggest that the original model is no longer relevant.
At least this is what reality should be telling our leaders. But it is clear that the Government is more concerned with slogans than reality.
The policy was not given any prominence during this year’s election campaign. As that liberal bastion the Herald has stated:
It is a bold step and one that ought to have been flagged in the election campaign. The Government obviously had this reform in mind many months before the election when the Social Development Ministry was given control of Housing NZ’s income-related rent subsidies. The plan can fairly be called a privatisation of state housing and it would have been a hot issue. That was no reason to keep it quiet. John Key went to the previous election with a programme of partial asset sales and it did him no harm. Why did he say nothing about this one?
Paula Bennett is the flag carrier for this policy. She was interviewed on Morning Report this week and as usual made no sense at all. She thought that the state divesting itself of social housing will mean that the problem will be addressed. I always thought that more and not less emergency housing would be the solution. She agreed that camping grounds should not be emergency housing places and that families using camping grounds for housing are doing so because there is nowhere else for them to go.
She also thought there were developers who can do some pretty exciting sexy stuff that will suit people much better that what Government has been doing. I am intrigued. Can anyone, anyone cite an example where a private developer has done more for people needing emergency housing than the State?
Bennett also complained about housing that has not been looked after or maintained. Her lot have been in power for six years. They should start wearing failures of the state rather than blaming others.
Bennett thought that the market and freeing up community housing providers will solve our problems. Letting private entities build up their balance sheet will let them borrow money and provide more houses. Funny thing is that the Government is well placed to build more houses. Robust balance sheet, an ability to borrow money at cheap rates, why should the Government exclude itself from providing social housing and instead rely on a group of community organisations to solve problems?
The market does not work. The Ranui Caravan Park that was referred to by Bennett for instance has been described as “a mix of tiny one-bedroom units and decrepit caravans, and is home to 300 semi-permanent residents.” Is this what Bennett has in mind when she talks about developers and investors finding solutions? Because in a market driven economy where the focus is on cost this is exactly the sort of solution that is normally delivered.
And the proposal is so Victorian. The policy is based on a premise that the State should not do anything about poverty but we should rely on private charity instead.
National’s refusal to accept that the State can own property which attracts a market rental is bizarre. Why not house a young family and when they get themselves on their feet financially charge them a market rental? The profit can then be put into new social housing. Why let the private sector reap the benefits but insist that the state bears the losses?
On Wednesday afternoon in Parliament Phil Twyford was able to question Paula about her obvious sexual excitement caused by the prospect of weakening the State further. The video makes interesting viewing. Twyford’s questions were direct and pointed. Bennett’s responses were frankly nonsensical.
This particular policy shows the Government’s current modus operandi. They have learned that they should not say what they think. They should instead do what they always do, and try to weaken the collective, while at the same time talk as if they care about the problem.