National is quietly dripfeeding dangerous new housing policies to an unsuspecting public and hopes no-one will notice

Over the past couple of weeks, major announcements on housing policy have trickled out in a way perhaps deliberately calculated to minimise challenge and debate.

A short summary of what’s been happening in the state housing area since the Budget includes:

  • Housing New Zealand (HNZ) will invest a paltry $28.5 million in capital expenditure for state houses over the coming year, focused on Auckland and Hawkes Bay.
  • The Housing Innovation Fund (HIF) of $20m will be collapsed into a new third sector housing fund of $45m.
  • This $45m will also include $5m seized from the Rural Housing Programme, and $5m already allocated to an existing Tamaki project. The Rural Housing Programme will no longer exist.
  • Housing policy functions will be transferred from HNZ to the Department of Building and Housing. A new Social Housing Unit will also be set up within Building and Housing.
  • From this Friday July 1, HNZ will stop accepting people with ‘low or moderate’ needs on to its waiting list. If National wins the election, the nearly 5000 households currently in these categories will be taken off the HNZ lists altogether.
  • Also from July 1, all new state tenants will go on to three year reviewable tenancies, and if National gets back in, this will apply to all state tenancies. When people are deemed capable of paying commercial rents, they will be moved out of state housing and expected to sink or swim in the private market.

Almost any social service agency can tell stories at the moment of desperate need, of families barely surviving in various forms of substandard, overcrowded and unhealthy accommodation – and of individuals who are left to fend for themselves on the street. For example, see this May 2011 story from Hamilton.

Our Housing Minister comes from Northland, a region which has some of the highest rates of substandard and unmet housing need in the country.

Yet Mr Heatley appears to have no scruples about fronting policies which will, at best, provide infinitesimal assistance when in fact substantial help is required, and at worst will make the lot of many low income people even tougher than it is already.

In closing down the Rural Housing Programme he will be stranding many people in his own region who live in broken down, unhealthy accommodation with no hope of ever being able to pay for the repairs they so badly need.

The new social housing fund robs Peter to play Paul, with no guarantee that even a single one of the rural families who were expecting RHP assistance will ever get a house out of the replacement programme.

Third sector providers will with the best will in the world only be able to achieve so much with the limited funds on offer.

My fear is that those who do take up the new funding and various other assets on offer may find that they’re not only expected to somehow heavily subsidise new housing from increasingly stretched philanthropic and volunteer resources, but that they will also become totally colonised by the state, expected to conform with Government policies regardless of their organisation’s original value base.

The transfer of housing policy advice from HNZC to the Department of Building and Housing is similarly risky.

I believe there are strong parallels here to Labour’s trashing of the Community Employment Group back in 2005. Huge amounts of knowledge, experience and community connections will be lost, as what housing policy capacity remains finds itself trapped inside a Government department best known for dealing – not particularly well – with the effects of the ongoing leaky homes crisis.

I cringe thinking of what Building and Housing will make, literally, of its new responsibilities.

When it comes to the new policies in relation to access to state housing, Mr Heatley seems to think that by magically waving a wand and disposing of half the current waiting list, people will no longer need housing assistance.

Such a phenomenal feat of prestidigitation may trick those who believe Phil when he implied on Q & A yesterday that people on $200,000 a year would have no trouble getting on to a state house waiting list.

But they won’t fool anyone who is aware of the reality. As Labour’s housing spokesperson Moana Mackey says, even now, "National’s inappropriately named ‘Options and Advice’ service is already being used to turn people away and send them out to the private sector before they are able to have a needs assessment", with the waiting list dropping by nearly 3000 as a result.

National’s new policies on housing are a case of smoke and mirrors.

Mr Heatley will be hoping to keep potential church and community sector critics happy with the modest increase in third sector housing funds, some of it ripped from the very people these providers aim to help.

He will be counting on his own support base believing the fiction that it’s no problem for people on $200,000 a year to access state housing waiting lists, even as low paid workers and beneficiaries are being turned away daily.

In the face of such wizardry, I hope we’ll see a lot more exposure of the realities of this country’s housing crisis in the months leading up to the general election.

We cannot afford to let any of National’s new housing policies, or the assumptions on which they’re based, be magicked away by Mr Heatley’s attempted wizardry.

 

Comments (5)

by Brendon Mills on June 28, 2011
Brendon Mills

Personally I only see this policy benefiting slum lords and rack renters, like the owners of the old Mangere hospital, whose occupants pay up to $200 a week for a room smaller than a prison cell, in very unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

This is very scary considering we have what has happened down in Christchuch, and with the Rugby World Cup coming up.

by donna on June 28, 2011
donna

Ah yes, the old Tory trick of solving a crisis by just wiping out lists of people or, better yet, not having a list in the first place. Crisis, what crisis? This time accompanied by the dulcet strains of Mr Heatley tellng us 4,000 "well-off" tenants will be turfed out of their state houses, suggesting (as in the welfare un/debate) that the state is supporting a bunch of freeloaders.

So once again thousands of the most vulnerable families will find themselves at the mercy of the private rental market (backflips for joy from the Property Council). Meanwhile the government refuses to entertain the idea of a capital gains tax on property, or a tax on imputed rental.

It's obvious this government has no interest in housing for the poor (a category that is encompassing ever more of us), so we need to be asking who exactly are these policies designed to benefit?

by Frank Macskasy on June 28, 2011
Frank Macskasy

One thing about my country, which I love with all my heart, is just how thick we can be, as a collective society.

 

We can be extremely passionate about such matters as a big multi-national mucking about with our favourite chocolate's ingredients; some kitschy sign near our Capital's airport;  or a wayward penguin*.

 

But when it comes to social issues that have far-reaching consequence for our society - nothing. Not a squeak from the masses. It is as if New Zealand society has shrugged and moved on, switching channel to the latest cooking show or other, inane, "reality" show.

 

In the meantime, the most important "reality show" - the state of our society - is all but ignored. It doesn't affect us, directly, or doesn't upset our sensibilities in some personal way - so we ignore it. (The Too Hard basket, over in yonder corner is over-flowing these days...)

 

Unfortunately, in the meantime, the housing crisis worsens and make no mistake, my fellow Kiwis - there will be consequences.

 

First and foremost; poor housing is part of the scenario of our growing underclass. Families raised in poverty; over-crowding; and sub-standard housing conditions leads to other social problems.

 

Firstly, children do not do well. Over-crowding means poor hygiene; lack of adequate sleep in noisy situations; and heightened stress. The next day, they're off to school, tired, under-fed, and grumpy. Hardly an ideal environment for preparing them for the classroom.

 

And with over-crowding comes disease.

 

Now the interesting thing about poverty-related disease is that they do not remain "poverty related" for long. Bacteria and virii are equal-opportunists when it comes to infecting others. The middle classes will not be dis-interested for long when someone behind them at the local Pak N Save queue is coughing streptococcus bacteria all over them.

 

".....Hastings GP Liffey Rimmer said that the "third-world disease" was rife in New Zealand when it had been eradicated in other first- world countries was an indictment on society's acceptance of unequal access to health care.

 

Rheumatic fever was incurable, Dr Rimmer said.

 

"The ongoing antibiotic treatment only prevents further streptococcus A infections. If people who have rheumatic fever get a strep infection again, the chance of heart valve damage goes up exponentially."

 

There was no doubt rheumatic fever was poverty related. "It is a third-world disease, a disease of overcrowding, inadequate housing and poor healthcare access." ...." - http://tinyurl.com/3dvf4m9

 

That's the thing about social problems – they cannot be kept isolated from lower socio-economic areas to "nicer parts of town". Sooner or later, the consequences of those problems catch up with all of us. This is a lesson we should have learnt by now. But evidently not.

 

National governments are not particularly reknowned for addressing social problems. Firstly, they ignore a problem. If it can no longer be ignored, they will de-regulate some aspect of the economy and wait for The Market to solve the problem. When it becomes apparent that The Market doesn't give a hoot and the problem persists, then a National government will act the only way it can – as cheaply as possible.

 

In the case of a lengthy state-housing waiting list, the cheapest way to address the problem is – cut the list. There. Sorted.

 

 

National, of course, doesn't appear to have a single clue. That much is obvious when looking at this government's actions regarding the recession; stagnant economy; and high unemployment. Their much-vaunted "Jobs Summit" in February 2009 came up with not much more than a cycleway, which led to a total of 215 new jobs (http://tinyurl.com/68rlm85).

 

215 down.

 

168,000 unemployed remaining.

 

National tried to stimulate the economy with two tax cuts; April 2009 and October 2010. Instead of spending, people generally chose to retire debt. That didn't work well, and the government simply had to borrow more from overseas to make up for the lower tax-take. $16.7 billion worth of borrowing.

 

Housing Minister, Phil Heatley seems to follow the same doomed path. Instead of addressing the housing shortage with something even remotely approaching a constructive policy – his plan is to evict tenants. Just what we need; to make lower socio-economic families even more itinerant and to break up communities. I wonder what this will do for families whose children are already prone to truancy from schools?

 

There is another option that Minister Heatly (or his successor) could follow.

 

We have 168,000 unemployed.

 

We have a waiting list of 5,000+ for state housing.

 

We have a stagnant economy.

 

What we have here is not so much an unsolvable problem, as an opportunity.

 

The re-building of Christchurch offers a clue;

 

"Reserve Bank of New Zealand governor Alan Bollard said yesterday that reconstruction in Canterbury was projected to add about two percentage points to gross domestic product growth nationally over 2012, and boost the level of activity for several years after that. " - http://tinyurl.com/3p78q3p

 

If the re-building of Christchurch is expected to add to our economic growth – then surely the same could be expected if a nationwide construction programme of state housing was to be undertaken. Instead of concentrating construction in just Christchurch, a programme of building new state housing could be spread around the country – especially in depressed areas such as Northland.

 

A massive investment in, say, 5,000 new homes nationwide would create work for architects, builders, carpenters, glaziers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, painters, tilers, drainlayers, landscapers, carpet/lino-layers, etc. Flow-on work would accrue to support businesses such as jumbo-bin contractors, truck drivers, local eateries, and such-like.

 

Further demand for building materials would see see an increase in business for hardware suppliers, timber suppliers, concrete suppliers, etc.

 

Each tradesperson would take home a wage. That wage would be spent locally at supermarkets, restaurants, movie theatres, clothing shops, and suchlike.

 

The cost to government would be considerable – but perhaps not as high as we might believe.

 

Such an investment in building would result in unemployed being trained and given jobs, thereby reducing the need to pay welfare; gst would be paid on building materials; PAYE would be paid on wages; businesses would pay increased Provisional Tax on profits; and finally, tenants in 5,000 new homes would be paying rent.

 

Then there is the flow-on effect to secondary businesses, as retail/grocery outlets hire more staff and increase sales to the families of those in the building industry. In turn, these businesses would be increasing turn-over and thereby paying more tax.

 

Doesn't it seem far more sensible to implement such a plan? Wouldn't it be a better 'look' for government to be building more houses; providing new homes for those who need them; creating new jobs; and reducing unemployment – instead of evicting people from their homes?

 

Because it seems fairly obvious to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Actually, I luv 'Happy Feet'. Nice to hear that s/he's doing well...

 

by alexb on July 28, 2011
alexb

It took a while to get to your point Frank, but I wholeheartedly agree that a massive state house building programme would have huge flow-on benefits for the country. Might I also add that a lessening in demand for houses might also cool down our property market, which is way overcooked.

by danniel on November 13, 2013
danniel

Phil Heatley should make sure he understands where his people stands before taking any of these actions, does he even know just how important housing is for these people? These days I can afford one of the gulf waters great homes but before getting there I used to rely on social housing, it gived me enough stability to get on with my life.

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