The housing question

Written By: - Date published: 11:15 am, December 1st, 2008 - 54 comments
Categories: health, housing, national/act government - Tags:

Good housing is a foundation of a healthy society, and it is something that New Zealand has long lacked. Despite leading the world with our state housing in the 1930s, we have fallen behind. Housing in most other first world countries is much warmer and drier than here.

That has important consequences; a study by the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development shows our one million under-insulated homes (two-thirds of the housing stock) leads to 50 admissions a day for respiratory illnesses, costing $54 million a year, 180,000 work days lost to sickness a year, and an annual national power bill half a billion dollars more than it needs to be. Poor housing leads to diseases of poverty, like glue-ear; to save on construction costs, we have paid an insidious, often invisible price in quality of life.

So, what’s to be done about it?

Labour made a good, if typically timid, start by insulating State houses and improved insulation standards for new buildings that are now coming into force. The Greens-Labour deal for a billion dollar insulation package would address under-insulation in older, non-State houses but it seems National is intent on scrapping that package for no apparent reason.

The NZBCSD points to the successful use of a mandatory house rating system in Seattle as another option. Home buyers don’t value insulation at present because they are often unaware of the insulation a particular house has or lacks, and they aren’t aware of the costs of under-insulation, both in health and money. A housing rating system informs buyers – increasing prices for better-insulated homes relative to under-insulated ones – and that encourages people to invest in insulation. 

I think that’s a good idea but it’s never going to make a difference for the people who face the worse effects of bad housing – poor families renting from private landlords. Out to squeeze what money they can from the country’s worst and cheapest housing, the last thing on these landlords’ minds is investing in insulation from which they stand to see no direct monetary return.

So, a housing rating system is not solution in itself. To build a healthier housing stock, we need more government investment – more State housing, more subsidisation of insulation in private homes – and higher standards for existing as well as new buildings.

National/ACT has talked a big game about more efficient, productive government spending. Well, housing is a perfect area to walk the talk. Every dollar spent on insulation in under-insulated homes (according to a government study in the 1990s) saves two dollars in health costs alone. Add to that, lower power costs, higher productivity, more employment (perfect for a recession) and better education outcomes for healthier kids, and we’re talking great value for the taxpayer’s dollar.

So, will we see a bold series of housing initiatives from the new government? Now, that really would be a brighter future.

54 comments on “The housing question”

  1. Tim Ellis 1

    SP said:

    The Greens-Labour deal for a billion dollar insulation package would address under-insulation in older, non-State houses but it seems National is intent on scrapping that package for no apparent reason.

    No apparent reason? How about $30 billion of deficits projected, over the next ten years? That sounds like a pretty compelling reason to trim back unaffordable expenditure and ensure that the economy is as strong as possible to pull us through the economic crisis. It’s nice to have big pipe-dreams–six hundred million to MFAT, a billion for insulating private homes (and therefore adding to the values of those privately-owned homes and the private investors), etc etc.

    Nice ideas, but just not affordable, and I don’t think should be the biggest priority.

  2. insider 2

    Actually this so called study shows nothing of the sort (in terms of lost sick days etc). It recycles data from other sources then combines it with an opinion survey that it conducts regularly – ie the monthly Shape survey and tries to build a case for policy change. If you don’t know what shape is, it’s a self selecting email survey which asks a number of often highly unbalanced questions (IMO) and allows you to invite a friend to take part.

    I don;t know a lot about survey methodology but that to me is highly dubious and I am suspicious of the validity of the results, especially when in one section it states

    “These metrics have been assessed using key research
    conducted by the University of Otago Medical School, Wellington.
    They are indicative only recognising the difficulty in extrapolating to
    a bigger community level of predicted benefits. We are supportive
    of further studies in this area with a larger population base to
    improve the data available for this form of assessment.”

    That tells me they don’t even trust their own numbers.

    It also seems to extrapolate that ‘x’ people said their house caused them to be sick into ‘y hundred thousand NZers are being made sick by their homes’, yet there is no evidential basis for it, just the opinion of the people being asked. A lot of people believe in astrology but does that make it true?

    I was also concerned by the lack of references to where the figures come from in the first place – none are actually sourced via footnotes though there is a list of references at the back. Why not say where the info comes from directly?

    The report itself is a big plea for taxpayers to subsidise the upgrading of other people’s homes and mandate the installation of some high cost but low performance systems favoured mostly by those who won’t be paying for them. For instance, it says that in a test home solar heating saved $275 a year. Sounds a lot until you realise that solar systems cost $5k to $10k to install. Not a great return on investment.

  3. Vanilla Eis 3

    Umm, Tim, didn’t Steve outline why the insulation would be a good thing to spend a billion dollars on?

    – Every dollar spent saves $2 on healthcare later down the track
    – Less days off sick = greater productivity
    – Installing the insulation = work for the building sector = people in jobs, paying tax

    Did I miss something? I know I’d be a lot happier with a billion dollars being spent on insulation instead of, for example, new roads. Or tax cuts.

  4. Tim. The deficit might be grounds to drop tax cuts for the already wealthy but cutting a program with myraid economic benefits? Weird economics there.

    And it’s a billion over 15 years, that’s pocket change in terms of the deficit and total government spending. 

  5. Tim Ellis 5

    If poor housing insulation is really a major problem, then I don’t see why the Government doesn’t just mandate housing insulation standards. Why spend a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money improving private housing stock?

  6. Kevin Welsh 6

    Gee Tim, more regulation? I can really see Rodney going for that one.

    Nanny State anyone?

  7. Tim Ellis 7

    Kevin, I don’t really care what Rodney goes for. I’ve never voted for him and don’t expect I ever will.

    Like I said, if dampness and cold houses really are an issue, creating a public health issue, then the government should regulate to ensure that all houses are fit for human purposes. I’d expect that study to be done on a scientific basis with a clear cost benefit study. You can call it what you like, but enforcing housing standards doesn’t seem like nanny state to me (not that I’ve ever used that expression).

    I very much doubt that there are many people who can afford to buy a house, who can’t afford to have it properly insulated. I’d much rather regulation being used as the tool to improve housing quality rather than taxpayer subsidy of private investments.

  8. vto 8

    This thread is a good illustration of the difference in approach between the left and right.

    If the left wish to ban uninsulated homes due to health effects then surely they should also ban cars from able to exceed 100kph (limiters) and ban cigarettes fullstop.

    Do you think individual people could possibly work this out for themselves and make their own minds up whether they would rather spend more on more insulation or spend that same money on something else like mayeb their kids education, or a big vegie patch? After all, there is only so much money. I would rather work it out myself than have Fitzsimmons do it for me. I mean – is she really that much smarter than everyone else?

    It is really is a classic case of the different approaches, which of course the public has just decided on.

  9. Pascal's bookie 9

    Tim,

    “I very much doubt that there are many people who can afford to buy a house, who can’t afford to have it properly insulated.”

    How much do you think it would cost? Do you really think that there are only a few people out there that couldn’t afford to throw that cost on the mortgage at present?

    Given that it’s really about priorities, do you think this spending would really be less beneficial than Key’s broadband gimmick?

    This spending is in an area that the private sector isn’t doing anything, yet would benefit the economy as a whole, at a time when builders could use the work.

  10. bill brown 10

    What about the people who rent and who’s landlords are under no obligation to upgrade their properties.But I suppose those renters can “go down the road” after all “it’s a market”

  11. Tim Ellis 11

    PB, I haven’t seen any studies, but I suspect that if there are public health issues in uninsulated housing, they are more likely to be lower-income housing, and probably rental housing at that. I think it should be a landlord’s responsibility to provide safe, healthy homes. I’ve been to places where there is atrocious rising damp–rental properties that really should just be condemned. I don’t know how people get away with tenanting those properties. I certainly don’t see a need for the taxpayer to subsidise an upgrade.

    As for the cost, I don’t know. 3-4 grand maybe. About one percent of the property value in the city, and slightly more in other areas.

  12. bill brown 12

    Tim,  perhaps they get away with it because people are desperate for housing – after all the alternative is worse.

  13. Phil 13

    But I suppose those renters can “go down the road’ after all “it’s a market’

    Yes, that’s exactly what they should do – it’s exactly what I’ve done with my landlord.

    We have a huge problem with dampness/mould/mildew, and taking five minutes of my day to contact the landlord, explain the situation, and point out that it’s his house losing value if he doesn’t do anything about it, was enough to get a DVS system installed.

    There is a huge oversupply of rental accomodation in NZ (we can argue the root causes some other time 🙂 ) and now is the perfect time for tennants to be using their superior bargaining position.

  14. insider 14

    Vanilla

    One of the reasons this stuff is controversial is because the benefits are not always as clear cut as some would make out. In a Dunedin study- one of the Chapman ones – they spent $1800 improving insulation and it only saved 350kwh (about $70) of energy and had a very small improvement in room temperatures. I suspect that lack of clarity on benefits is the reason lobbyists try and push the taxpayer to spend the money.

  15. Tim, vto. It’s not about people who own their own homes, and Phil it’s not about people like you in a powerful market position (good income, oversuply of rentals in your market). Our concern should be targeted at families renting on lower incomes, who have to take the cheapest housing and whose lanlords don’t give a crap about things like insulation.Now, you righties are all about the handup not the handout. Surely you can see that insulation, a one-off cost that has longterm benefits to people’s lives is exactly that kind of handup. (maybe you’re not for hand ups either, maybe you’re just not for helping out those at the bottom of the pyrimad).Tim, there are mandatory insulation standards but they don’t apply to buildings in existance before the standards came into force.. I reckon they should be applied to rental properties even if they are pre-1979.

  16. vto 16

    SP, I understand your point and it makes sense. But only to a point. And that is the point – where is that point? My point was that this issue is a good illustration of the difference in approach between the two main factions of NZ politics. One that prefers to make decisions for people and one that prefers to trust in people to make their own decisions.

    Rather than forcing my neighbour to insulate their old home I would rather trust in my neighbour to make the right decision for themselves. Who am I to tell my neighbour what to do with their house? In fact, as I type I look at my neighbours mostly old places and think of the reception I would get if I went and knocked on their door and told them they had to what I told them with their house.

    It’s just that age old conundrum.

    Of course houses would be better if they were warmer. So would people if cigarettes were banned.

    And when it comes to where the point of that conundrum sits the people of NZ have just sent a very very clear message to Wgtn.. Ignore at your peril. Or perhaps a better way of describing that message is, in the words of Cullen, “we won you lost eat that”. (hee hee, that one had to come back didn’t it)

  17. George Darroch 17

    “Rather than forcing my neighbour to insulate their old home I would rather trust in my neighbour to make the right decision for themselves. ”

    I support low/zero interest loans, offered to everybody. They’ve recently introduced this in California, after seeing much success at the local level. It is a pity that the last Government was reluctant to push this policy, and we saw only limited access to this instrument available, in favour of low income home owners (almost an oxymoron). A universal coverage would not be all that costly, but is likely to be much more successful in terms of both outcomes and popularity.

    Of course, these loans should also be offered to landlords (carrot) with a mandatory requirement after a certain period of time (stick). Many landlords will take the offer if given voluntarily, but some will so no commercial advantage and choose not to if given the choice.

  18. Rather than forcing my neighbour to insulate their old home I would rather trust in my neighbour to make the right decision for themselves”

    what concerns me is not so much when they’re not making the decision for themselves, it’s they’re making the choice for their tenants.

  19. TimeWarp 19

    We’re going to end up like the Bedouin who live in tents with a Rolls Royce outside. Except we will live in poor housing with gold-plated broadband infrastructure. And it won’t be paid for by oil, but by debt.

  20. Janet 20

    Mary on Checkpoint is trying to hold Phil Heatley to account on the new policy of capping state house numbers, quoting his words from September back to him which never mentioned a cap and instead talked about increasing the stock in the medium term. But of course they now mean something else – and he deals with this by just talking over her. This is what happens when election policies were mere bullet points – they can mean something quite different once in power.
    How often will we see this tactic?

  21. George Darroch 21

    “How often will we see this tactic?”

    As often as we see it needed. Expect it as the default setting from NACT.

  22. TimeWarp 22

    “No apparent reason? How about $30 billion of deficits projected, over the next ten years? That sounds like a pretty compelling reason to trim back unaffordable expenditure and ensure that the economy is as strong as possible to pull us through the economic crisis. It’s nice to have big pipe-dreamssix hundred million to MFAT, a billion for insulating private homes (and therefore adding to the values of those privately-owned homes and the private investors), etc etc.”

    Unless Key wants to “invest” in “infrastructure” – then it’s all good Tim?

    Are you going to come out and say his broadband plan and other expenditure is a crock of proverbial, or are you just playing this along party lines?

  23. RedLogix 23

    What about the people who rent and who’s landlords are under no obligation to upgrade their properties

    Bill hits on a very good point. Around 40% of us live in rental accomodation, and this number is growing at around 0.5% pa. And I would hazard a guess that a dominant portion of the very bad houses are in this category.

    The big problem from the landlords point of view is that there is absolutely zero incentive to do anything about it. In the current market rental returns are pretty much fixed by location and number of bedrooms. Age and condition of the property perhaps affects the occupancy rate somewhat, rather more than the actual $ per week value. Energy costs are fully paid by the tenant, so any investment by the owner shows zero return.

    Until recently tenants have placed absolutely zero value on things like warmth, efficiency or ventilation. Many of them have no idea how to maintain a house, they’ll close all the windows, pull all the curtains, run an unflued gas heater and then wonder why the windows have puddles streaming onto the floor. In this kind of scenario the landlord has very little motivation to be doing much to improve the property. All up it is not a pretty picture and there are whole swathes of the rental sector that are very sick indeed.

    Having said all that, the recent “Toxic Homes” TV series seems to have made a real impact. All of a sudden new tenants are asking questions about the health of the home, if it is insulated or not, and what the power bills are. Some are checking to see if the property was used as a P-lab and are looking more closely in bathrooms and toilets for signs of dampness and black mould. Overall my impression is that this program has reached a lot of people and opened their eyes to this very major issue.

    Right now I’m looking at a quote of around $9000 to fully insulate three 100m2 houses using Greenstuff (R3.3) in the ceilings, Airfoam (R2.8) in the walls and either recycled polystyrene (R2.8) or a foil (R2.5) under the floors. All three will get a 6kw heat pump and some form of ventilation system. (One good trick is to vent the warm air into the bathroom, this pushes any moist air quickly out of the house and definitely eliminates the usual tendency for this room to grow mould.)

    The problem is that all up this represents about a $20k plus investment, that on paper, the only way I can justify is that it will likely improve the occupancy rate and marginally improve the rental. I don’t even want to calculate the ROI. Any sane man would tell me that I’m just soft in the head.

    I have to conclude that the only way forward for the rental sector is a combination of education (like Toxic Homes), rating systems and a gradual introduction over time of improved mandatory standards.

  24. mike 24

    As landlord renting to the bottom end of the market I cannot see the point of spending big $$ on insulating a dunger only to up the rent in order to pay for it.
    Forget about the grant – they estimate 22K to do a thorough job and how do you properly insulate a 1914 lath & plaster villa without relining the whole thing

    Someone has to offer cheap housing and that’s certainly not the govt.

  25. rave 25

    But seriously why don’t you landlords here stop trying to get rich off the housing needs of others? Why do you think state houses originated? To get slumlords off the backs of the workers. Why is Heatley putting a cap on state houses? Because the real National policy is to sell the prime sites to their developer mates and infill the gullies with matchboxes.

    A capital gains tax would sort you lot out, drive down the cost of housing and then no interest loans would give home owners some incentive to put sweat equity into their homes including basic retro insulation.

    It doesnt take much to reline a home if you live in a real community and have plenty of voluntary help.

    In fact housing needs can be met by collective labour. I have seen slum developments in Sao Paulo where the community gets a land grant from the local body and builds everything from roads, drainage up. The thing is that the land is community owned an nobody is trying to get rich from rack renting their brothers and sisters.

  26. RedLogix 26

    rave,

    Up until about `15 years ago, the traditional rental return was around 10%, ie if the house was worth $100k, then the rent was about $200 pw or $10k pa. This formula had been pretty much the norm for many, many decades.

    In recent times as values rose dramatically, rents did not and returns have dropped to around 3-6%. Very few landlords see anything like the old 10% return. In fact the average tenant is paying about 40% of the cash to live in a house, than if they had purchased that home themselves with a 20% deposit mortgage.

    Rentals have never been cheaper. I think your ‘rack renting’ rhetoric can be safely put to bed.

    In fact many, if not most tenants are actually not yet in a position to own a home. Either they do not have the equity, or they are not at a stage of life when they either need or should own a home. Their lives are generally still rather transient. The median tenancy only lasts about 12 months, and then they move on, usually for very good reasons like new jobs, new relationships, or suprisingly often, they have purchased their own home.

    What landlords do is leverage their own equity to enable people who have none to access a home to live in. It is not money for jam. There is a considerable amount of work in it if you do it right, and there are not inconsiderable risks. The number of bastard tenants out there considerably outnumbers the bastard landlords.

    The notion of collective housing is a good one. I’m all for it, but very very kiwis have the balls to give it a go. I’m also quite active with Habitat for Humanity, another very interesting organisation with another very successful communal model.

  27. rave 27

    RedLogic

    I used to work in Tenants Protection so I know a bit about landlords.
    I have also had to look after family property that was rented out though I was personally opposed to acting as a landlord.

    Landords rent out to cover their mortgage costs and then make a capital gain when they sell because they can and that’s the way many people have increased their assets in NZ. Once you jump on that gravy train its easy to see tenants as bastards.
    I see private tenants as pretty powerless people who have little control over their lives and who do not respect property because it means nothing to them. Where local body or state housing exists in large blocks the situation is different.

    It is unfortunate that NZ did not stick with land taxes that punished land speculation. Of course it didnt because of the pork barrel driven politics of land farming. Once this system was established then land values soon got out of reach of the working class. That’s why state housing is absolutely necessary and the more of it the better.

    I was talking about how things can be different if land is nationalised or owned collectively so the incentive to gain from the ‘unearned increment’ does not exist. Collective housing on privately owned land is probably a nightmare. The example I cited in Sao Paulo allows families to sell the houses back to the collective for the value of their own sweat equity. This is fair and it develops values where the individual and collective coexists productively. The individual works for him or herself and for the collective and everybody wins.

  28. gingercrush 28

    Even a capital gains tax wouldn’t change things. You may get the smaller guys stop buying housing but for most people its very long term. Most people don’t expect to get rich from the actual rent coming in. That rent typically doesn’t even cover mortgage. Most people will buy a rental for that long-term capital gains and if they had to pay 33% they would still likely get a good profit. It may slow house prices rising but I don’t believe it’d do that much damage.

    If you really wanted to hurt landlords and people investing in housing your best way. Then remove the ability to do this:

    Negative gearing. The IRD also allows losses in investment properties to be claimed as deductions against income earned from an employer. This is termed “negative gearing”, the effect of which can turn what would normally be a pittance of a tax return into a substantial refund. Seek the advice of your accountant when determining what can and can’t be geared against your income.
    via stuff.co.nz

    —–

    Personally I think National was premature to get rid of the house efficiency policy and I believe while that may have been ideologically opposed to it that it was something people liked.

    In regards to rental housing. If you really want to push those to be properly insulted etc etc the smartest thing would be make it attractive via tax returns. So if you insulate your rental and/or make it more energy efficient you can get substantial tax returns. Its the smartest way to do it and will see far more results than grants or anything else.

  29. nobody seems to have got that the title of this is a reference to Engel’s work of the same name. boo?

  30. RedLogix 30

    Capital gain taxes usually do not have the desired effect. In fact land speculation and a monstrous property bubble has just happened over the last decade in every developed nation in the world, despite a huge range of various tax measures these nations have in place.

    Unrealised CGT’s are a nightmare. NZ I think had one in place sometime during the Muldoon era, but it only lasted a few years… the effects were so pernicous on all sorts of commercial operations. They positively invite avoidance and the administration gets hugely complex. Very few countries have ever persisted with this form of CGT for long.

    Realised CGT’s (ie tax paid on sale) are quite common, but the usual long-run effect of these is the exact opposite of what you intend… the land owners NEVER sell, rather the property is held onto for generation after generation. Over time more and more land is held by fewer and fewer people.

    I think the best method for preventing land speculation would be to eliminate freehold title and make all land leasehold. Rates would become land rents. Most importantly the banks would not be allowed to securitise the land portion of a property’s value, and that simple condition alone would almost completely eliminate the speculative mechanism drives land price bubbles.

    Incidentally property investors are NOT the ones who drive prices up. Most investors look to buy property that is undervalued for some reason, and seek to add some form of value to it. Over the last 3-4 years, until the bubble burst late last year, most investors had their cheque-books firmly shut, yet the bubble merrily continued inflating all the same.

  31. gingercrush 31

    We know there’s horrible landlords but there are also a number of tenants who are also horrible.

    My partner has two rentals. One was damaged by PI users. The other was abused by people that lack obvious common sense. These were people earning good incomes yet they still left windows closed, the curtains constantly closed and it caused damage. Another lot didn’t pay their rent for a month but my partner who is far too generous allowed them to get away with it. He is a good landlord who is always working to help the tenants in his property. He’s been generous in setting the bond, he has been generous in the damage caused by his tenants and he has been easy-going when people have not paid their rents.

    Most tenants are excellent, likewise the majority of landlords too are excellent. Its the few that tend to be assholes and they let both landlords and tenants down. But please do not make some poor/rich analogy that excuses tenancy behaviour.

  32. RedLogix 32

    GC,

    All that the removal of negative gearing would do is drive up rents, and in the long run achieve little else.

    If the rental company is loosing money (and most are at present), then if the loss is ‘ring-fenced’ into that company then it stays there. In the short term this forces the owner to put in shareholders funds (already tax paid from employment income) to cover the loss, OR to raise rents to cover the short fall.

    If the owner props up the company with his own funds, then when the business eventually turns a profit (and eventually after 10-20 years most do) all the losses are then unwound. All that has happened in effect is that you have created a monstrous cash flow problem without changing anything in the long run.

    Or more likely the vast majority of owners will not be able to cover the losses. Their uniform response will be to raise rents…all at once all across the country, by about 50-100%. Sure some landlords will not, but the tenants in their houses will stay put, (and you can only rent one house once)… the rest either pay or sleep in the streets.

    Then you can get to moan about rack renting.

    And the idea that landlords might be en mass forced to dump huge numbers of properties onto an already depressed market is a nightmare scenario that the other 60% of NZ’ers who are already worried about the declining value of the homes might also not appreciate.

  33. Pascal's bookie 33

    nobody seems to have got that the title of this is a reference to Engel’s work of the same name. boo?

    He was like one of Goons or sumfink, yeah? You should have called it ‘The International Christmas Pudding!’ everyone knows that one. Or perhaps you could of gone with one of the Marx brothers flicks, “A day at the races’ or ‘Duck soup’. But they wouldn’t have fitted the post I suppose. Oh well, serves you right for having a pack of heathens for readers I reckon.

  34. RedLogix 34

    GC,

    You make some excellent points.

    So if you insulate your rental and/or make it more energy efficient you can get substantial tax returns.

    At present insulating a house is counted as a capital improvement, so the cost is not even tax deductable. If you borrow to pay for it the interest portion of the loan is deductable, but the principle is not.

    Most tenants are excellent, likewise the majority of landlords too are excellent. Its the few that tend to be assholes and they let both landlords and tenants down. But please do not make some poor/rich analogy that excuses tenancy behaviour.

    Absolutely agree. Most in fact have looked after their homes better than we look after our own… it’s almost embarrassing. So far we’ve been very fortunate, but you can never quite put aside that niggling worry that one day, one of them is going to let you down big time, and when it happens there is not very you can do about effective redress. Frankly I would regard the Tenancy Tribunal as a forlorn last hope; I would do everything both proactive and possible, before I went down that path.

  35. gingercrush 35

    I don’t advocate doing so RedLogix just that if you want less people investing in property that is the way to do it. I think the current way works rather well. I don’t actually believe making money off housing hurts people. I do believe current prices are too high and the market knows that thus why we’re likely to see a long period where house prices either fall or stabilise without any rise in house prices. Most tenants do rather well in that even for those on lower incomes they can potentially rent in areas they could never afford to buy a house.

    There is an issue in that home ownership is falling. But I don’t believe you hurt those already invested in property. Its not just that house prices outweigh incomes or that we live in a more user-pays systems. The attitude in New Zealand too has changed and you really do need to make sacrifices to buy property. Most just aren’t willing to do so.

    And another point. Most people investing in property are pretty normal people and many of them are hurting just as much as other people. Many aren’t actually on super high incomes. Many investors in property make sacrifices to own second homes etc. Yes they can offshoot losses through tax returns on personal income. Yes eventually it should pay in that over the long-term they will make money. But many are really hurting now.

  36. RedLogix 36

    PB,

    Very droll.

    SP,

    Where do I hand in my membership card?

  37. Jum 37

    JanetDecember 1, 2008 at 5:38 pm
    said ‘Mary on Checkpoint is trying to hold Phil Heatley to account on the new policy of capping state house numbers, quoting his words from September back to him…’

    I heard that too – the behaviour of an arrogant, condescending little minister in an arrogant (small g) government. What I didn’t hear or see was any mention re state housing on the television news on any free to air channel (correct me if I’m wrong). News blackouts to protect government perhaps?

    I consider this latest change a far-reaching policy reversal by National, yet there was no targeted visual coverage to reach people who don’t read the papers, the very people who will be most affected by National’s do up and sell off of state housing stock.

    The million dollar homes will be handed over to the well off, the poorer state house tenants squatted into boxes and the divisive plans of Nact will progress, unhindered by New Zealanders who are still busy saying ‘give these guys a chance’.

    Anne Tolley refused to answer a question on education – arrogant disregard for the public, via media, enquiry. Is this the future? Remember the Douglas 80s? The sped up policy enactments, happening before NZers knew what was happening to them. We didn’t know better then. We have no excuse to let it happen a second time.

    Cutting Agenda which would have given future illumination on the current government’s actions and plans. TVNZ dumbing down still further…leaving just… Volkner .

  38. Jum 38

    The difference between Labour and National will always be:

    Labour works positively and is inclusive. The result over time means a better life for all.

    National works negatively and is divisive. The result over time means the good life for some and a cheap desperate labour pool for the rest to sink into.

  39. Tim Ellis 39

    SP said:

    Our concern should be targeted at families renting on lower incomes, who have to take the cheapest housing and whose lanlords don’t give a crap about things like insulation.

    Well I think they should give a crap about it, SP. I’ve seen some tenanted properties with rising damp and I’m just appalled that anybody would live there. Frankly I think that kind of housing is just unsafe. I don’t know how people live in them. That is obviously a different issue to proper insulation but I suspect real construction faults are as much a cause for illness and energy wastage than insulation issues. Should we subsidise landlords who want to treat rising damp as well?

    I don’t think so. I think it’s better for the state to identify housing safety issues and enforce them. I’m not comfortable with across the board, mandatory insulation rules because some parts of the country are warm enough all year round to not need it. In my home I’ve never used a heater (I don’t actually have one in the house).

    Tim, there are mandatory insulation standards but they don’t apply to buildings in existance before the standards came into force.. I reckon they should be applied to rental properties even if they are pre-1979.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, here. The state should be concerned about the poorest families living in sub-standard housing, and require those landlords to bring those properties up to scratch. I don’t think you need to spend a billion dollars to do it. Just a five-year phase-in period with severe penalties if they don’t comply.

  40. insider 40

    Steve

    No-one reads Engels anymore. another of those failed policies of the past 🙂

    Tim

    Why doesn;t the Govt contract standards with landlords? Guarantee a certain level of rent in return for specified standard of housing. That way the landlord has the certainty to invest and the stock of housing gradually improves, particularly at the bottom end.

  41. Phil 41

    Labour works positively and is inclusive… National works negatively and is divisive.

    Ah, so that explains all those successful coalition arrangements between the MP and Labour, and why National refuses to work with them – thanks for clearing that up!

  42. lprent 42

    Phil: we’ll have to wait and see with the MP. Making a coalition is trivial compared to keeping it.

    However look at NZF with National between 1996 and 1999 and the contortions that the Nats did to stay the course. Sure the Alliance fractured between 1999 and 2002, but that simply resulted in an early election.

    So far it looks like the Nats operate like spagetti, limp and extremely flexible when wet. However I think that their coalitions will fracture like dry spagetti when they get a bit of a load on them. Certainly how they operated with NZF in the 90’s

  43. Tim Ellis 43

    LP, I don’t think your position is credible, frankly. You point to one example of National managing under MMp–it’s only example. Bolger also brought together a coalition in 1995 with United and the Conservatives, which was reasonably successful. Bolger also managed coalition negotiations pretty successfully with NZ First. Things turned to custard at about the time Shipley took over, but I don’t think that the “contortions” that National put up with, vis-a-vis NZ First, were any more wild than what Labour put up with this year from NZ First.

    I think Helen Clark’s reputation as a master of MMP took some pretty heavy body-blows this year. She pu tup with far too much from Winston for the sake of holding together a government. If there is ever an example of wet spaghetti, then that was it.

    Helen Clark put together a stable government from 1999-2002. During this time the Alliance collapsed, but Clark’s government’s authority remained strong. I think that was a good example of sound political management from Clark.

    In 2002 she had the opportunity to build an agreement with the Greens, and refused. In 2005 she turned down the chance to work constructively with the Maori Party. I think in retrospect her policy of building the minimum agreement necessary went against her.

    Key has built on Clark’s habit of more flexible coalition arrangements, open to a range from full coalition on everything and cabinet positions (the position from 1996-1999), coalition with agreement to disagree on some things, and full cabinet (99-02), confidence and supply with ministers outside cabinet, confidence and supply with no ministers, and agreements to abstain. It’s hard to see where else arrangements might evolve, but Key’s advantage–and Clark can take a lot of credit for developing these things–is that support options aren’t limited.

    Where Key’s fresh approach is not to go for minimum cooperation, but to go for maximum support. Key isn’t happy with 62 votes out of 122, as Clark was. That’s why he’s gone wider. Time will tell if it will lead to a less fractious parliament, but I think your predictions of brittleness are about as credible as the cold water you poured on political opinion polling before the election.

  44. rave 44

    Insider:

    Yes people still do read Engels but don’t necessary draw the conclusions that SP does about more state intervention.

    However, right now, old Fred would probably support state housing for obvious reasons. They are a small step towards socialism.

    Red Logix refers to one aspect of it. Leasehold was a huge movement in the 19th century but it collapsed in the face of the great second Land Grab from Maori during the Liberal adminstration of the 1890s. Of course from that point on capital gains taxes were a big no no. In fact the reverse, for example high country land that has remained leasehold is now being converted to freehold.

    But housing is something that can be tackled right now. State housing keeps land out of private ownership and takes a step towards socialism. It also forces all those landlords who get tax breaks and need more tax incentives to upgrade substandard housing out of business. Good riddance. Except of course Heatley is the Minister and not Engels. To Engels Question Heatley answer is: cap!

    RedLogix:

    I don’t agree that investors didnt contribute towards the housing boom of recent years. That’s because I include all those proverbial ‘mums and dads’ who dabbled in second or third houses, or went into doups to augument their low wages. Or who simply traded up several times. But add to this already overheated market the subprime loans that started to blossom over the last few years (Aussie banks leading the way).

    Jum:

    I agree with you Nats are shaping up for a blitzkreig under the pretext of the financial crisis with 3 years for a new round of shock and horror.

    Back to Engels SP:

    The answer is not to pin ones hopes on state housing (as this is a reform incapable of meeting workers housing needs) but rather advocate workers occupations and expropriations of vacant public and private housing.

    “As it is not our task to create utopian systems for the arrangement of the future society, it would be more than idle to go into the question here. But one thing is certain: there are already in existence sufficient buildings for dwellings in the big towns to remedy immediately any real “housing shortage,’ given rational utilization of them. This can naturally only take place by the expropriation of the present owners and by quartering in their houses the homeless or those workers excessively overcrowded in their former houses. Immediately the proletariat has conquered political power such a measure dictated in the public interests will be just as easy to carry out as other expropriations and billetings are by the existing state.”

  45. lprent 45

    TE: The point I was making to Phil was that forming a coalition is the easy part. Keeping it together (as you’ve also pointed to examples where it hasn’t) is pretty damn hard.

    Balancing the expectations of the MP and Act, plus the internal policy divisions inside of the Nats is going to be hard

  46. George Darroch 46

    Back on topic – the sniping about who’s got a better coalition can happen in another thread.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, here. The state should be concerned about the poorest families living in sub-standard housing, and require those landlords to bring those properties up to scratch. I don’t think you need to spend a billion dollars to do it. Just a five-year phase-in period with severe penalties if they don’t comply.

    Indeed. It’s a policy intervention that needed to happen yesterday. The Fifth Labour Government may eventually have gathered the courage to do it, but it was down the list of priorities unfortunately.

    I do accept that taking on a large number of landlords, even with the support of a large part of the electorate, is something that no government would take on lightly, and could be difficult. For that reason I’m not averse to a sweetner such as low interest loans to accompany regulation. We shouldn’t be paying the full price in subsidies however.

    It might also be rolled out from the deep South upwards – Southland, Otago and West Coast in the first few years, then Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson etc. It would also be good to see these loans tied to the property, so that someone selling does not lose the value of improvements – this is part of the ‘California model’ that seems worth adopting.

    (and as an aside, it seems that California is racing ahead of many places including NZ in many areas of policy. We’re not the ‘world leaders’ that Helen Clark constantly claimed.)

  47. Evidence-Based Practice 47

    Off topic again.
    3 pm RNZ news John Key says has no idea what to do about the stranded tourists in Thailand. Phil Goff has to tell him – ring the Ozzies – work with them.

    Did you ever see Helen Clark less than confident and decisive on any such issue?

  48. Evidence-Based Practice 48

    Off topic again
    Very sad news – long time staunch left activist Raewyn Good died this morning. A huge loss for the many circles she was active in.

  49. insider 49

    EBP

    Why should the Govt even consider stepping in to get people out of Thailand? Is there some danger in having your holiday extended? Did we race to get people out of the US after 9/11 or the UK after the tube bombings? There are other international airports operating in Thailand. This is nanny statism gone mad. Travel insurance should cover getting them out or their airline/travel agent.

    On topic, I found this interesting comment re home heating from a story a few months ago:

    “Christchurch Hospital respiratory physician Michael Epton said there was growing scientific evidence that people’s houses affected their respiratory conditions.

    “What was not clear was whether targeted intervention, such as insulating homes, cut hospital admissions for respiratory conditions. This work needed to be done, Epton said. ”

    SO if admissions don’t go down, the medical cost savings argument becomes a bit tenuous making the investment in insulation less attractive from a national benefit.

  50. George Darroch 50

    SO if admissions don’t go down, the medical cost savings argument becomes a bit tenuous making the investment in insulation less attractive from a national benefit.

    Highly publicised 2007 University of Otago research show that there are substantial health benefits. It also quantified the benefit, and found close to $2 benefit for every dollar invested.

    The Otago press release is worth reading.

  51. insider 51

    George

    I know that’s what the publicity said but when you look at the study the benefit was actually 1.73, which to me is quite a bit lower than 2. He uses a long and low discount rate – 30 years and 5% when Treasury says 6% and 20 years, while on the other side Chapman says he has not included some benefits which could improve the equation. Seems to me there may be a lot of scope for argument about the c/b conclusions.

    the health benefits looked ok on the surface but even the researchers said the change in hospital admissions was not statistically significant (which is one of the major benefits being claimed for insulation by the NZBCSD).

    Many of the other benefits were self reported reductions in days off and well being, which may have been artefacts of the study (something noted as having happened in other studies apparantly) ie people thinking they are warmer and drier even though the temperature changes were not that great IMO.

    One example was people said they had less mould yet the mould spore counts did not actually change, and GPs reported no significant change in visits despite a massive self reported change (which to me casts doubts on the other self reported improvements).

  52. George Darroch 52

    I agree with you that the study wasn’t perfect (and as most good research does) left a number of things unanswered.

    A later editorial acknowledges the shortcomings, but the results are clear enough. It is important to note that only 30% of those who saw improvements were given the full insulation package, and that even the full insulation package offered was far less than comprehensive. The actual effect seen in raised temperatures was not substantial – approx 0.6 degrees higher mean temperatures to 14.2 degrees. This is still well below the WHO recommended minimum of 18 degrees. To take an uninsulated NZ home up to European standards would take substantially more than the $2000 spent. This is why we need a policy intervention that enables more than simply minor roof insulation but instead proper whole house renovations where necessary.

    As you mention though, the benefits were quantifiable, and statistically significant in some areas – particularly respiratory symptoms and days off work and school . Not all areas of wellbeing saw such and improvement however, and the data on GP visits was unclear. Nevertheless, the BMJ and others think that the benefits of such an intervention is well justified.

    Over 12 months there were substantial (of the order of 50%) improvements in self-rated health, wheezing and reduced time off work and school in the intervention group, with fewer visits to GP and hospital. Visible mould was reduced by 50%. Again it is impossible to fully blind this study, but it was single blind and the size of the study and the size of improvements for a mix of hard and soft outcomes give it great weight.

    Similar results were found in another NZ study that looked at an intervention to provide heating, and effects on asthma. The effect was quite substantial (BMJ, subscription, PDF) in terms of days off school, sickness, and asthma. We’re a sick nation, needlessly.

    I’ve also just re-read the study and can’t find a figure that corresponds to 1.73. The article says “tangible health and energy benefits outweighed the costs by a factor approaching 2”. It might be there, I just couldn’t see it.

    And of course, that is just the tangible benefits. Warm, cosy people are happier, and more likely to care for others, new research suggests. More reason for the left to support an insulation policy 😉 Less likely to want to go to Queensland either…

  53. RedLogix 53

    This is why we need a policy intervention that enables more than simply minor roof insulation but instead proper whole house renovations where necessary.

    Apologies for the product placement here, but I’ve already done up one house with
    this product and I’m really impressed. Totally eliminates the need to reline walls and works much better than I expected.

  54. insider 54

    Thanks George.

    It’s completely intuitive to me that warmer homes are better for people. I know from experience with an asthmatic son. Though what really sets him off is getting a cold or sometimes Wellington’s cool strong northerly.

    The surprising thing to me is that, despite the trumpeting of proof, the evidence doesn’t necessarily back that up. My suspicion is warmth is an aggravating factor not necessarily the prime driver of some illness, so we need to be slightly cautious in deciding solutions and who should pay particularly when the savings (like hospitalisation) don’t appear to be occurring.

    Oh and the c/b analysis of 1.73 came from a separate but related paper by Ralph Chapman here http://www.otago.ac.nz/wsmhs/academic/dph/research/housing/publications/Insulation%20benefits%2031oct042.doc

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