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National continues to panic on housing crisis as election day looms

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The Grand Announcement!

On 3 June, National announced with great fanfare that additional state housing would be made available in Tauranga  and  Papamoa;

Almost 220 new social and transitional places are on the way for Tauranga and Papamoa, the Government has today confirmed.

“We’re on track to have 68 short term transitional housing places available in Tauranga and Papamoa by the end of the year. This will mean we can support up to 272 families in Tauranga and Papamoa every year while long term solutions are found,” says Ms Adams.

“Of those 68 places, 21 places are already open.

“Across the wider Bay of Plenty region, we will be providing a total of 146 transitional housing places meaning we’ll be able to help 584 families every year,” says Ms Adams.

“These houses are in addition to the 290 social houses we’re planning to secure in the Bay of Plenty. These new properties will be a welcome addition to the region, which is an area of growing need.”

Minister Amy Adams emphasised,

“We are working hard alongside providers to address the demand on social housing and help those most in need of warm, safe housing.”

Except…

Which would be fine – except that in December last year, National signed an agreement to sell off 1,138 state houses to IHC subsidiary, Accessible Properties;

Accessible Properties has signed a contract with the Government confirming it will acquire and manage 1,140  [actually 1,138] state homes in Tauranga, and plans to add 150 more houses to its portfolio.

The 1140 homes are currently with Housing New Zealand and will transfer on April 1, 2017. The contract was signed today and Housing New Zealand tenants are receiving letters this week explaining the change of ownership.

It was a similar deal to the one  the Salvation Army walked away from in March 2015;

The Government’s plan to sell off unwanted state houses to community housing providers has been dealt a massive blow with the Salvation Army walking away from the negotiation table.

The Salvation Army announced today it lacked the expertise, infrastructure and resources to deal with the number of houses and tenants that the Government wanted to offload.

[…]

Salvation Army social housing spokesman Major Campbell Roberts said the Government had underestimated the complexity of the task.

“I don’t think there has been enough thinking gone into it.”

Roberts said the current “Housing New Zealand monopoly” wasn’t working, but handing social housing over to single community organisations, like the Salvation Army, would fail.

Community Housing Aotearoa director Scott Figenshow rightly pointed out;

“ Last month the Government confirmed $1.2 billion of deferred maintenance on the state housing stock. Why would a provider want to purchase a liability? ”

IHC/Accessible Properties showed no such hesitation and on 1 April this year the sale was completed. Accessible Properties’ CEO,  Greg Orchard, appeared very pleased with the deal;

“The properties have been assessed as being at a very good standard – we will maintain this and seek to make improvements.”

The sale of the properties took place at the same time that Tauranga was experiencing a housing crisis similar to Auckland’s;

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Which means…

National’s “grand plans” for 220 new social and transitional places remains woefully short of the 1,138 houses that National sold off to IHC’s Accessible Properties at the end of March.

It is also unclear what is meant by “ transitional places“. Are these actual houses? Or motel units, à la Auckland-style;

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Only National would have the brazenness to sell off 1,138 state houses and then announce one-fifth of that number of “new houses” as some sort of “stunning achievement”.

Worse still is National’s over-all record when it comes to State housing;

In 2008, Housing NZ’s state housing stock comprised of  69,000 rental properties.

By 2016, that number had fallen to 61,600 (plus a further 2,700 leased) – a dramatic shortfall of 7,400 properties.

No  wonder we have families living in cars in the second decade of the 21st Century.

Where did those state houses end up?

Promises made…

In September 2009, then-Housing Minister, Phil Heatley, announced that state house tenants would be allowed to purchase the state houses they were living in;

From today those state house tenants in a position to buy the house they live in can do so, says Housing Minister Phil Heatley.

[…]

Over the next week, Housing New Zealand will be approaching about 3,800 state tenants who pay market rent and live in a home that is available for purchase, to make them aware of the opportunity.

[…]

To ensure a property is not on-sold to developers, a tenant who purchases their state house will be unable to reapply for a state house for three years from the date of purchase.

Heatley specifically made clear his opposition to state houses ending up in the hands of anyone but occupying tenants.

In January 2015, our then-Dear Leader, Key, repeated National’s plans to sell state houses – but only to social service providers;

We’ll then look to sell between 1,000 and 2,000 Housing New Zealand properties over the following year for use as social housing run by approved community housing providers.

In doing so, we’ll use open and competitive processes.

Community housing providers may want to buy properties on their own, or they may go into partnership with other organisations who lend them money, contribute equity, or provide other services.

Properties will have to stay in social housing unless the government agrees otherwise, and existing tenants will continue to be housed for the duration of their need.

Selling properties in this way doesn’t reduce the number of social housing places. It just means more of the tenancies will be managed by a non-government housing provider rather than Housing New Zealand.

We’re very conscious that the sale of properties has to work for taxpayers.

We’re looking to get a fair and reasonable price for these properties, bearing in mind they’re being sold as ongoing social houses with high-need tenants.

We’re not selling them as private homes or rentals.

Note his unequivocal guarantee; “We’re not selling them as private homes or rentals”.

As with many of Key’s statements, he was somewhat ‘loose’ with truthfulness.

Promises broken.

By May this year, it became very apparent where many of the 7,400 state houses sold off by National had ended up;

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The article by Virginia Fallon makes this extraordinary revelation;

While the Devon St sale gives buyers the chance to choose their neighbours, it marks a bittersweet ending for Kay Hood, who once owned 80 per cent of the street.

“I would have liked to have bought the sixth one, that’s the only eyesore,” she said.

Over 20 years, Hood and husband Peter bought five houses on the street, and she wishes the last one never got away.

“We bought them off Housing Corp and I did approach them for the last one, but we never got it.”

We bought them off Housing Corp…”?!

So while entire families are camping out in cars, garages, or  –  if they are lucky – motel rooms, private investors have ‘snapped up’ State House properties.

In this case, the Hoods on-sold their investments (ie, former state houses), and were candid in their plans;

“ We’re going to go skiing and spend the children’s inheritance. ”

Personally, I hold no antipathy toward the Hoods. In our current social climate of  hyper-individualism  combined with a degree of moral ambiguity, many of our fellow New Zealanders have exploited opportunities for speculation such as this.

But I do hold 100% responsible John Key and his fellow Ministers-of-the-Crown who allowed this travesty to occur.

More so John Key, who benefitted from a state house in his youth;

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The over-powering stench I can smell is either a dead, rotting whale on my front lawn – or Key’s appalling hypocrisy.

The sound of a train-wreck hurtling toward you

It is abundantly clear that National is panicking over the issue of housing.

Whether it is homelessness or over-crowding by poor families, or home unaffordability for middle-class Millenials, National has managed to spectacularly cock this up.

New Zealanders may be able to tolerate poverty. This country has had varying degrees of poverty since the Year Dot.

But the notion of homelessness is more than they can stomach. Homelessness strikes at the very core of the “Kiwi Dream”, where a roof over your head and a place to raise a family is one of our strongest values. (The other being the now-mythical notion of egalitarianism. That social ideal had the life throttled out of  it after 1984.)

Housing-related problems (I refuse to call them “issues”) for National keep mounting in a Trump-like way.

On 8 June, on Radio NZ, Major Campbell Roberts (the same Maj. Roberts who, in 2015, had thoroughly rejected National’s invitation to buy properties from Housing NZ)  from the Salvation Army’s social policy unit, had been invited by then Finance Minister English to become part of National’s Housing Shareholders Advisory Group.

Maj. Roberts revealed that now-Dear Leader, Bill English, had described a looming housing crisis as far back as 2010;

“ He [Mr English] said a couple of things; one, the use of of the $15 billion asset of Housing New Zealand, and the second was that he was seeing a major crisis in Auckland in housing in five or six years.  It was a passing comment – but it was one of the reasons for setting up the shareholders group.

English’s prediction has eerily come to fruition;

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Unsurprisingly, English rejected Maj. Robert’s revelations using a highly effective technique from his predecessor. One of English’s tax-payer funded spin-doctors said,

The Prime Minister was having a number of such conversations on housing reform at the time, including with a housing advisory group which included the Salvation Army, and he doesn’t recall exactly what he said.

Who else had memory problems when it came to potentially embarrassing gaffs and scandals?

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Meanwhile, in a latest move to dampen the ballooning housing market, the Reserve Bank is contemplating adding a new “tool” to it’s regulatory powers. The RBNZ wants to cap  debt-to-value ratios at five times a borrower’s income;

The Reserve Bank wants to be able to stop people taking out mortgages that are too big compared to their incomes.

It wants debt-to-income restrictions (DTIs), which limit the amount that people can borrow to a multiple of their income, added to its macroprudential toolkit, alongside loan-to-value (LVR) restrictions.

The restrictions are used in other markets around the world, such as Britain, where borrowers must have a loan no bigger than 4.5 times their income. The Reserve Bank is suggesting a limit of five times.

The size of New Zealand mortgages compared to incomes has increased sharply over the past 30 years. The Reserve Bank said increases since 2014 partly reflected the drop in interest rates over that time, but it was possible that rates could rise again in future.

The RBNZ estimates debt-to-income restrictions could prevent 8,800 investors from buying a property. But 1,600 First Home buyers  would also be caught up in stringent DTI restrictions and locked out of  owning their home.

The Bank’s chief agenda is to prevent a massive housing crash that would impact on the economy; cause mass unemployment; and result in thousands losing their homes through mortgage defaulting;

The housing market could collapse if mortgage rates rise to 7 percent, given the increasing numbers of households heavily in debt, the Reserve Bank says.

The Reserve Bank stress-tested the ability of borrowers to cope with mortgage rates at 7 percent, which is close to the average two-year mortgage rate over the past decade.

It found 4 percent of all borrowers, and 5 percent of recent ones, would be put under severe stress where they could not meet day-to-day bills for food and power.

Auckland borrowers appear particularly vulnerable to higher rates, with 5 percent estimated to face severe stress.

[…]

“So that if a downturn comes, you don’t get a whole lot of forced sales coming onto the market that depresses house prices even further, and create a risk for the banking system and also the broader economy.”

All because National ignored a crisis that Bill English predicted seven years ago, and could have dampened with a capital gains tax equivalent to company tax, and stopping investors from claiming tax deductions on mortgage interest payments.

It is bizarre and inequitable that tax-payers are in effect subsidising investor/speculators on their investments. Especially when, after two years, those properties can be on-sold with little or no capital gains tax paid.

If the RBNZ introduces a debt-to-income ratio of five times a person’s income, it may well succeed in dampening down the property bubble.

But as usual, it will be those at the bottom (or near the bottom) who pay the price. They will be the ones who continue to be locked out of the property market and denied a chance to enjoy the Kiwi Dream of home ownership.

The resentment and anger this will cause cannot be over-stated.

The sound in Bill English’s ear is the roar of a train wreck bearing down on him and his hopeless, self-serving ‘government’. ETA for the crash: 23 September.

All because National stubbornly refused to act to curb property speculation.

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References

Scoop media:  More social housing coming on board in Tauranga & Papamoa

NZ Herald:   Government sells off Tauranga’s state housing portfolio to Accessible Properties

Accessible Properties:  What is happening?

Fairfax media:  Salvation Army says no to state houses

Bay of Plenty Times:  Accessible Properties takes over state homes

TVNZ News:  Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars

Bay of Plenty Times:  Tauranga’s homeless problem at ‘crisis point’

Sunlive: Housing crisis under the spotlight

Radio NZ:  Housing situation critical – Tauranga principal

Tauranga Budget Advisory:  City’s Rental Housing In Crisis

NZ Herald:   Govt to buy more motels to house homeless as its role in emergency housing grows

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09

Housing NZ: Annual Report 2015/16

Beehive:  State houses available to buy from today

Fairfax media:  John Key Speech – Next steps in social housing

Fairfax media:  Can’t afford your own island? How about buying your very own street?

NZ Herald:  Prime Minister John Key’s childhood state house up for sale as Government offers 2500 properties to NGOs

Radio NZ:  PM spoke of housing crisis in 2010 – Sallies

Otago Daily Times:  Auckland housing crisis expected to drag on

Fairfax media:  PM talked of major housing crisis – Salvation Army

Dominion Post:  Editorial – Prime Minister’s bad memory embarrassing

Fairfax media:  Debt-to-income ratio would stop thousands from buying houses – RBNZ

RBNZ: Consultation Paper – Serviceability Restrictions as a Potential Macroprudential Tool in New Zealand  (p26)

Radio NZ:  Housing market could collapse on 7 percent mortgage rates

IRD: Residential property

IRD: Taxation (Bright-Line Test for Residential Land) Act 2015

Additional

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NewstalkZB: Demand for food banks, emergency housing much higher than before recession

Previous related blogposts

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 June 2017.

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“Spinning” in a post-truth era

18 August 2016 3 comments

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Two recent media stories, on two utterly disparate issues, were clear examples of how tax-payer funded media “spin doctors” were guiding government ministers to respond to questions in a certain way.

Two interviews; two ministers; both on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Morning Report‘ – and both interviews left the audience none-the-wiser afterwards.

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“Guidelines”

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The first, on 5 August, featured Finance  and Social Housing Minister, Bill English, defending Housing NZ’s use of flawed testing regimes for methamphetamine-use in state housing.

On 20 June this year, Housing NZ admitted that the current testing for methamphetamine use (smoking)  was flawed;

“…The current standard guidelines were written to address meth ‘cooking’ and not use, meaning they are not entirely suitable for the contamination that occurs through use of meth.

The Ministry of Health guidelines were written a while ago. At that time it wasn’t perceived that consumption would be at the levels that it has reached. For this reason the guidelines do not cover all they need to.”

Drug Foundation executive director, Ross Bell, was scathing;

“I think they’re out of control…

[…]

I don’t know how they can justify that. Housing New Zealand has spent over $20 million in the last financial year doing these tests and these cleanups. Knowing that these are flawed the minister should step in and stop taxpayers’ money being wasted and vulnerable people being punished.”

Despite the testing regime  – which TVNZ’s  ‘Fair Go‘ programme used to “detect” methamphetamine on bank-notes – “not fit for purpose”, Housing NZ has continued to use the flawed guidelines to evict tenants;

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Expert questions meth contamination evictions

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Housing NZ Minister, Bill English, agreed that the testing for methamphetamine was flawed;

“They’re operating to a Ministry of Health guideline which I understand is internationally standard, but is regarded as not quite appropriate, particularly for dealing for use of P in houses…

[…]

Now, the test as I understand it, indicates the presence of any P at all which may be a very low health risk.”

The interesting aspect to Radio NZ’s Susie Ferguson’s interview with Minister English was not that he disagreed with the premise that the P testing regime  was flawed. He gave a straight answer to Ms Ferguson’s question;

Susie Ferguson: “Are these tests fit for purpose?”

Bill English: “Ah, no. And Housing NZ have said that.”

English then spent the next seven minutes defending the flawed testing regime.

In part of his interview, the “g”-word became glaringly  prominent;

“Housing New Zealand is in the position where there is currently a moh guideline, you can’t just wish that away – Housing New Zealand are not health experts.

Ministry of Health stand by the guideline, and the Ministry of Health are the statutory organisation that promulgates the guideline.

I think everyone involved with this is frustrated, I suppose except for the scientists that gave us the guideline in the first place.”

It is obvious what phrase English’s media spin-doctors told him to stay “on-message”.

He referred to “guidelines” no less than sixteen times within those seven minutes.

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“Technical matters”

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On 8 August, in an unrelated matter, our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, was interviewed over  China’s threats to launch a trade war if New Zealand investigated cheap imports/dumping of sub-standard Chinese steel.

As Vernon Small described the situation on 4 August, in the Dominion Post;

Now let’s see if we’ve got this right.

In early June Chinese officials find a type of fungus (Neofabraea actinidiae) on board a bunch of kiwifruit heading into the country.

Nothing much happens.

Then in early July a message is passed, through back channels, to Zespri and Fonterra (and potentially other primary producers) that China is extremely peeved that a complaint has been laid about the potential dumping of cheap Chinese steel in our market.

A steel inquiry by regulators here could lead to the imposition of non-tariff barriers that could slow down our exports, the warning suggests. And, what’s more, China is angry that the complaint was even accepted for consideration by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

After some to-ing and fro-ing, China officially denies it draws a link between a potential steel-dumping inquiry and sales of our food products. The various New Zealand agencies and exporters chant in unison that it is an “unsubstantiated rumour” that such a link had been made.

Trade Minister Todd McClay at first tries to dismiss media reports as reflecting a single low-level source talking to Zespri. But he later back tracks and apologises to Prime Minister John Key and concedes the Zespri warning was not all. In fact, there had been “discussions and limited correspondence over the past few months as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has endeavoured to assess the veracity of these reports”. But in the end they were not verified.

[…]

On July 22, Zespri said it had experienced no problems. 

But on July 29, just a few weeks after the initial “warning” – and right in sync with that warning –  Chinese border agencies impose non-tariff barriers, involving a risk notification and strengthened inspection and quarantine processes, on our kiwifruit.

Zespri says their unwelcome fungal friend does not affect food safety and is not a pathogen. It exists in several countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Holland, the United States and Ecuador – and potentially China itself, the home of the chinese gooseberry to which the noble kiwifruit is whakapapa.

But in contrast with Zespri’s relatively sanguine view, the Chinese notice from the AQSIQ, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, describes Mr and Mrs Neofabraea actinidiae in very unflattering terms as a “rot pathogen” and a “major disease” that could infect other fruit such as apples and persimmons, thus inflicting “serious economic loss”.

It saying the fungus hails from New Zealand and Australia – the targets of Chinese suspicions that we are acting in league with Uncle Sam.

And through it all ministers and Zespri are ruling out any link to the “unsubstantiated” trade threat.  “China throws up these non-tariff barriers all the time” is the tenor of the message emanating from the Beehive. Nothing to see here.

(The full text of Vernon Small’s analysis is worth reading, and reminiscent of the sort of critical journalistic insights that we used to have in abundance in the Fourth Estate, and which could ultimately do great harm to an encumbent government’s reputation.)

On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 8 August, Guyon Espiner interviewed our esteemed Dear Leader on China’s blocking of our kiwifruit exports.

Key’s responses to Espiner’s questions were a tribute to the Prime Minister’s media spin-doctors. Throughout the entire four and a half minutes interview, Key stayed on-message, referring to the blocking of Zespri’s export as “a technical issue“.

The phrase “technical issue” was used three times.

Other answers given were verbose – but not very enlightening for the listener;

Espiner: “Did he [Todd McClay] tell the truth about that, though?

Key: “Yeah, he did, but he was-“

Espiner: “You said he was dancing on the head of a pin.”

Key: “He was very specific in the answer that he gave to a very specific question.”

Espiner: “He was misleading, wasn’t he?”

Key: “Well, I just think, in our business the problem is that even though often a journalist will ask me a direct and specific question, you really know they’re  asking a broader question. And it’s kind of tidier if you can at least give a, give them [a] more fulsome answer.”

So according to Key, if “a journalist will ask… a direct and specific question, you really know they’re  asking a broader question“?

This was quintessential Key silly-speak for “Yes, Todd McClay lied”.

The curious aspect to Key’s “spun” answers is that Guyon Espiner – a seasoned journalist of the calibre of Lisa Owen, Kim Hill, Simon Walker, et al – allowed Key to make his specious drivel unchallenged.

At the very least, Espiner should have challenged Key of his references to “technical matters” with the simple question,

“Prime Minister, is the phrase “technical matters” the on-message phrase you’ve been told to use?”

Key would have responded with a resounding “No, of course not!”.

But that would have blown that phrase out of the water from that point on in the interview. The carefully ‘spun’ message crafted by his spin-doctors would have been rendered neutralised, and Key would have had to rely on other answers to Espiner’s probing. Perhaps even something approaching the truth.

The best way to counter “spin” is to clearly identify it as such.

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Shades of Bill Birch

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In 1991, when former Finance Minister, Bill Birch, was promoting the Employment Contracts Bill to the New Zealand public and media, his constant mantra was that it would “raise real wages”;

” The challenge New Zealand faces in industrial relations is to create an environment that delivers high productivity, high income and high employment.”

The promise of “higher wages” was an attempt to justify  the de-unionised, laissez-faire bargaining aspects of the Employment Contracts Act (later passed into law as an Act of Parliament).

But such was not to be. As economist, Andrew Morrison, reported for the  Parliamentary Library in 1996;

“The content of employment contracts has also changed. There are more flexible work practices, greater multi-skilling and increased use of performance pay. Rates for overtime and penal rates have dropped.

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Econometric work shows the ECA as having had no significant effect on the aggregate level of wages. There may have been some deterioration in working conditions, however evidence is not clear-cut.”

Birch’s claims of the ECA “raising wages” were utterly bogus of course.

In reality, the Act increased wages for a few – but either froze or reduced wages for the majority, as Morrison pointed out.

It was the first occassion when this blogger noticed an oft-repeated phrase used by a politician to promote a wildly unpopular piece of legislation. It may have been one of the first (?) uses of ‘spin’ in such a context (as opposed to mis-use of information or outright lies).

In 1991, the “raising wages” mantra was not challenged in any meaningful way (that this blogger can recall).

A quarter of a century later, we still seem to have a problem with political ‘spin’.

The scary thing is, that our elected representatives don’t really seem perturbed that we recognise their ‘spin’ for what it is. In a post-truth environment, it seems to be the “new norm”.

As Andrea Vance wrote in an opinion piece on 1 July;

Politicians are now playing a game in which it’s up to their opponents to fact-check, to catch out their lies. (“People have had enough of experts,” as British Tory leadership hopeful Michael Gove put it.)

They presume media and the voters should accept what they say as fact.

Earlier this week, Trump’s supporter Jeffrey Lord dismissed this “fact-checking business” as an “elitist, media-type thing”.

People only care about “what the candidates say”, he added.

But if what the candidates say are bare-faced lies…then where does that leave us?

Indeed, where does that leave us?

Perhaps needing new standards for political honesty?

We can call them “guidelines“.

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References

Radio NZ: Drug Foundation critical of meth contamination evictions

Housing NZ: HNZ supports new meth standards committee

Radio NZ: English calls for more specific housing meth tests

Radio NZ: Expert questions meth contamination evictions

Radio NZ: NZ braces for effects on Zespri’s halt of kiwifruit exports

Fairfax media: China’s attack on kiwifruit after trade reprisal warning ‘just a coincidence’

Radio NZ: NZ braces for effects on Zespri’s halt of kiwifruit exports

Parliamentary Library: The Employment Contracts Act and its Economic Impact – Andrew Morrison, Economist (November 1996)

Otago.ac.nz: Labour’s Labour Relations

Additional

TV1 News: A post-truth era in politics

TV1 News: Perhaps the Government might want to say sorry

Radio NZ: Is a ‘post-truth’ era upon us?

Radio NZ: Give facts a chance

Previous related blogposts

Military ‘spin-doctoring’ – the media catch-up

The Art of ‘Spin’

Paula Bennett on unemployment: spin baby, spin!

The Dark Art of ‘Spin’ – How It’s Done

The Dark Art of ‘Spin’ – How It’s Done (Part #Rua)

When spin doctors go bad

“Spin me a conspiracy”, said Dear Leader!

“Spin me a brain exchange”, said Dear Leader!

National Party spin on Aaron Gilmore and MMP

National spins BS to undermine Labour’s Capital Gains Tax

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

The Mendacities of Mr English – Fibbing from Finance Minister confirmed

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quick it's an emergency - spin doctors

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 13 August 2016.

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Rebuilding the Country we grew up in – Little’s Big Task ahead

17 July 2016 1 comment

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1949-state-house-in-taita b

 

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2007: John Key says Housing is in crisis

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On 20 August 2007, National’s new leader, John Key, made a stirring speech to the  Auckland branch of the New Zealand Contractors Federation. In it, he lambasted the then-Clark-led Labour government;

“Over the past few years a consensus has developed in New Zealand. We are facing a severe home affordability and ownership crisis. The crisis has reached dangerous levels in recent years and looks set to get worse.

This is an issue that should concern all New Zealanders. It threatens a fundamental part of our culture, it threatens our communities and, ultimately, it threatens our economy.

The good news is that we can turn the situation around. We can deal with the fundamental issues driving the home affordability crisis. Not just with rinky-dink schemes, but with sound long-term solutions to an issue that has long-term implications for New Zealand’s economy and society.

National has a plan for doing this and we will be resolute in our commitment to the goal of ensuring more young Kiwis can aspire to buy their own home.”

(Hat-tip: Bert)

In 2007, Key described “home affordability and ownership” as a “crisis”.

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2016: John Key says Housing is a more like a “challenge”

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Almost exactly five years, one of my first blogposts involved the looming housing crisis. On 3 August, 2011, I wrote;

The shortage of state housing is a serious matter, though. This critical problem of decent, affordable housing is not helped by the fact that the Fourth National government (1996-1999) sold around 13,000 State Houses in the 1990s.  These properties were supposedly made available to tenants – but actually went mostly to property speculators (who later sold them for tax-free capital gains).

When Labour was elected to power in November 1999, they immediatly placed a moratorium on the sale of state housing. According to HNZ, they currently ” own or manage more than 66,000 properties throughout the country, including about 1,500 homes used by community groups”

This government has re-instated the sale of state houses.  It does not take rocket science to work out that selling of state housing reduces the availability of housing stock.   Housing Minister Phil Heatley said that,

“… about 40,000 of the 69,000 state house stock will be available for sale,”  but then added,  “that the vast majority of tenants do not earn enough to be required to pay market rent means relatively few will be in a position to buy“. (Source.)

There seems to be nothing stopping tenants from buying their state house and immediatly on-selling it to a Third Party.

Is it any wonder that the shortage of state housing is not being addressed in any meaningful way?

That was five years ago.

The housing crisis appears to have only recent dawned on National ministers. As Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett  said on 25 May this year;

“Certainly what we’ve seen is it has been more acute in the last two years.”

It is most certainly not a recent problem.  It is only “new” if you are a well-paid National minister, living in a tax-payer-funded residence.

In my blogpost five years ago, I offered a solution to the housing crisis confronting this country;

Solution: build more houses.

This may seem like a ‘flippant’ answer to a desperate problem – but it is not.

The building of 10,000 new state houses may seem an outrageously expensive idea.  But it would address at least three pressing problems in our economy and society;

1. Persistantly high unemployment.

2. Low growth.

3. Inadequate housing for the poorest of our fellow New Zealanders.

At an average housing cost of $257,085 (calculated at DBH website @ $1,773/m for a 145 square metre, small house), the cost (excluding land) is $2.57 billion dollars,  including GST (approximate estimate).

By contrast, the October 2010 tax cuts gave $2.5 billion to the top 10% of income earners.

For roughly the cost of last year’s tax cuts, we could have embarked on a crash building-programme to construct ten thousand new dwellings in this country. …]

It would be a boom-time, as two and a half billion dollars was spent on products and services.

Would it actually end up costing taxpayers $2.57 billion dollars? The answer is ‘no’.  Government would actually re-coup much of that initial outlay through;

  • gst
  • paye
  • other taxes
  • reduced spending on welfare for unemployed
  • and investment re-couped by rent paid for new rentals

Would it work?

Yes, it would.  An NZIER survey expects a strong pick-up in 2013 when the rebuilding phase hits full-flight, with 3.9% annual growth predicted from a previous forecast of 2.6%.

[…]

There is no reason why a determined government cannot adopt a bold programme for economic growth.

Instead of borrowing to pay for tax cuts we can ill afford, we should be investing in jobs.  The rest will almost invariably take care of itself.

We have the resources. We have the money. We have the demand for new housing. What else is missing?

The will to do it.

National has been half-hearted in it’s will to address this crisis. It has implemented a few lukewarm, ad hoc measures, but they are five years too late and too little.

Some of National’s announcements have been panic-driven;

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Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders - interest

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At other times, National has indulged in it’s favourite past-time of “blame-gaming”;

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housing crisis - national - blame game

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By 2016, under Key’s watch, homelessness has increased; housing affordability has worsened, and home ownership has plummeted. Our esteemed Dear Leader no longer calls it a “crisis“. It is now just a “challenge“;

“I don’t think it’s a crisis, but prices are going up too quickly.”

“There are plenty of challenges in housing, and there have been for quite some time.”

Make no mistake, this is a direct consequence of National’s laissez-faire approach and an opportunistic reliance on mass immigration to keep the economy afloat at a time when dairying is no longer the main driver of economic growth.

By any definition, National’s “hands off” approach to housing – whether social housing for the poor or affordable housing for the Middle Classes – has been an abject failure.

The mood for change has never been as palpable since the dying days of the Shipley-led National government in 1999.

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The Labour Response

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On 10 July, Labour leader Andrew Little congratulated Labour on it’s 100th year birthday. He also put the boot firmly and fairly up National’s backside for it’s hopeless track record on housing.

If the supply of food were in short-supply and expensive as is housing for poor and middle-class New Zealanders, there would be rioting in the streets by now. By morning there would be a revolutionary government sitting in the Ninth Floor of the Beehive and Key and his ministerial cronies would be in hiding, exile, or under arrest.

Little began with a brief, but accurate refresher course in New Zealand history;

“We’re here to celebrate Labour’s creation of the welfare state, the achievements of widespread home ownership and the creation of state housing, a free health system and a free education system.

In short, we celebrate the building of a nation.

We celebrate and we remember the image of Michael Joseph Savage carrying the very first furniture into the very first state house.

Offering hope to people that the years of depression were over and there were brighter days ahead.

We’re here to celebrate the beginning of the reconciliation between Maori and Pakeha and the restoration of the mana of the Treaty of Waitangi.

We’re celebrating the decision to make New Zealand nuclear free. We celebrate the courage shown by thousands of New Zealanders who marched against the Springbok Tour.

We’re celebrating KiwiBank. Kiwisaver. Working for Families. The Cullen Fund.

We celebrate Homosexual Law Reform and we remember the scene of the packed galleries in Parliament rising in song after we passed Marriage Equality.

These are Labour achievements.

This is the legacy of our party.”

Little omitted Labour’s de-railing in the 1980s at the hands of a small cadre of Neo-liberal fifth columnists. They who delivered our country into the hands of  global finance. They who were the  authors of a failed economic experiment that caused generations of misery, and rewarded the top 10% with unearned wealth. They whose names will pass into history and be quietly forgotten.

This was a moment where Little – like his predecessor David Cunliffe –   turned his back on neo-liberalism and announced to the country that the experiment was over. Labour would take back the reigns of responsibility for ensuring housing for all;

“After eight years, this government’s lost touch.

And nowhere, nowhere, is this government more out of touch and out of ideas than on housing.

Housing is at the core of a good life.

It provides security and stability.

It helps families put down roots in their communities and save for retirement

It is one of the most common sources of capital for people setting up their own small business.

The ambition of widespread homeownership sits at the heart of our social contract. It is at the heart of the Kiwi Dream.

The promise that if you work hard and do the right thing, you can earn a place of your own.”

A few salient statistics drove home the worsening crisis to anyone who needed convincing;

“Since 2008, when this government came to office, the average house price in Auckland has nearly doubled.

But over the same period, incomes have increased by only 24%.

In the last year, house prices in Auckland have increased by $2600 a week.

Twenty six hundred dollars a week.

It’s crazy. How on earth do you save enough to keep up with that?

[…]

The proportion of Auckland houses being bought by investors has now reached 46% – around twice the level of first home buyers.”

Little went on to explain how the housing crisis went in tandem with other worsening social indicators;

“And then there is the hard edge of the crisis.

The rising poverty and homelessness that National turns a blind eye to.

We’ve all heard the stories of Kiwi kids admitted to hospitals with respiratory illnesses because the cold damp homes they have to live in are making them sick.

We’ve all seen the awful media reports in the last few weeks about what life is like for those who can’t find any home at all.

Of the 42,000 people living in overcrowded conditions or in garages or in cars.

Of children sleeping under bushes in South Auckland.

We’ve seen the story of the 11 year old girl, whose mother has a job, but whose family spent months living in a van before they were taken in by Te Puea Marae.

She said that the hardest part is actually not being able to read in the van, because you don’t have space. And there’s not much light because it would waste the battery.”

These are matters raised that Labour’s opponants on the Right cannot easily dismiss or explain away. These are real events from real New Zealanders living under the currently all-too-real neo-liberal system.

Increasing child poverty; income/wealth disparity; and a worsening housing crisis – all of which are the spawn of thirty years of neo-liberalism.

Those who maintain that poverty has deepened because the “market” has not been sufficiently de-regulated, nor government reduced, nor taxes sufficiently cut, need to ask themselves; “At what point does an experiment that is showing no signs of positive improvement have to be concluded as an abject failure”?

As Little demanded from the party-faithful;

“When did this become the New Zealand we lived in?”

Little then laid out what he called Labour’s comprehensive plan to take to the  election next year. He said that a Labour government would;

 

  • …urgently address the shortage of emergency housing – with $60 million to provide 1400 new beds in emergency accommodation – enough for 5100 extra people a year. With the existing support that will take the number of people helped each year to over 8,000.

 

  • …reform housing New Zealand – so that instead of being run like a corporation making a profit off the most vulnerable, we can invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building thousands of new, modern, high quality state houses instead.

 

  • …will build 100,000 new affordable homes to be on sold to first home buyers.

 

  • …will set up an Affordable Housing Authority to deliver ambitious new urban development projects, at scale and at pace. We are going to change the face of our towns and cities, and fix this housing crisis. The Authority will have a target to meet: 50% across all of the homes in its developments will have to be affordable. The Authority will look after the Government’s urban land holdings, and will make sure there is a pipeline of land for future needs – for housing, business, schools, parks and hospitals.

 

  • …ban offshore buyers from the market unless they are willing to build a new home and add to the stock..

 

  • …will extend the bright line test so that if you sell an investment property within five years, you’ll pay the full tax on it. That means the short term speculators won’t be able to get away tax free anymore. It means ending the tax incentives to speculate in short term property gains at the expense of families trying to get into a home.

 

  • …will begin consulting on how to end the loop hole of negative gearing.

 

Perhaps Labour’s most audacious plan is to set up a new “Affordable Housing Authority”.

If one reads his speech a certain way, he is planning on reviving a newer, 21st century version of the old Ministry of Works (which was privatised by National in late 1996.) If so, it could be the most direct  way to build houses for people in desperate need.

Considering that most of this country’s infra-structure was built by the old Ministry of Works (or similar state bodies), including the telecommunications systems being used to upload this blogpost onto this website, it would not be a far-stretch of the imagination that it could be done again.

If so, this wasn’t just a speech – it was a Manifesto for the Last Rites of Neo-liberalism.

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Property Investors throw their toys out of the cot

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The reactionary response from the NZ Property Investors Federation was utterly predictable. They were miffed. All of a sudden, their tax-free pot of gold was about to be denied to them

The Federation’s executive officer, Andrew King, bleated like a spoiled brat who had just been told to share his toys;

“In one part of his speech, he said there were homeless people and people living in overcrowded conditions and they wanted to do something about that.  How does making it harder to provide rental homes to these people achieve it? Unbelievable.”

It may have escaped King’s somewhat narrow-attention, but homelessness and over-crowding has worsened during the time that his members have enjoyed spectacular tax-free gains. What were they doing in the last eight years?

He also compared businesses, shares, and farms with housing;

“No other investment is like that. If you do the same with a farm, with shares, with a business, all of those wouldn’t be affected, just rental properties – it’s just wrong.”

Generally speaking, people do not live in “shares”,  “businesses”, or farm paddocks (yet). People live in houses. That is the critical difference.

On top of which, astronomical rents are directly contributing to homelessness and over-crowding;

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High Auckland rents forcing people onto the streets - Sallies

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So to whine that, all of a sudden, Labour’s housing policies will “ make it harder to provide rental homes to these [homeless] people” is contemptible.

His members should be held to account for their part in our housing crisis. The sooner that a capital gains tax is introduced at the same rate as New Zealand’s company tax (28 cents in the dollar), the better.

Mr King’s absurd “pity me” comments have crossed the borderline into territory commonly known as;

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hypocrisy definition

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National discovers Problem & Solution!

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Last year, as stories of homelessness; over-crowding; fewer available  Housing NZ homes; and worsening housing affordability began to make headlines around the country,  National was grabbing money from a government department tasked with caring for the most vulnerable people in our society;

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Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend

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In all, National has raked in over half a billion dollars from Housing NZ;

Housing NZ dividends under National

HNZ Annual Report 2009-10 – $132 million   (p86)

HNZ Annual Report 2010-11 – $71 million   (p66)

HNZ Annual Report 2011-12 – $68 million   (p57)

HNZ Annual Report 2012-13 – $77 million   (p47)

HNZ Annual Report 2013-14 – $90 million –  (p37)

HNZ Annual Report 2014-15 – $108 million –  (p33)

HNZ Statement of Performance Expectations 2015/16 – $118 million – (p12)

Total: $664 million (over seven years)

See more here: National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

Labour took dividends as well, around a third of National’s figure. The difference between the two is that Labour builds State housing, whilst National continually flogs them off.

This amounts to looting a critical government organisation that is akin to thieving from a charity.

This year’s 2016 Budget indicated that Housing NZ would pay a  dividend  of $38 million  and $54 million next year, for 2017.

Twenty four hours after Andrew Little gave his speech to the country, Housing NZ suddenly announced no dividends would be paid for the next two years;

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RNZ - Housing NZ confirms it will not pay govt dividend

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Labour’s Grant Robertson offered his rationale for National’s policy U-Turn;

“The first we hear from National that they suddenly believe Housing New Zealand needs to retain that money to invest in state houses is the morning after an announcement by the Labour Party that Housing New Zealand will never be required [by Labour] to provide a dividend to the government.

This is not a coincidence, this is a panicked, desperate response from the government.

What we know is that National has extracted dividends from Housing New Zealand over recent years and it’s quite clear that National has seen Housing New Zealand as a cash cow in the past.”

Bill English refuted allegations that National was panicking over Labour’s housing announcement only 24 hours previously;

“It’s nothing to do with Labour and the Greens. This is a $20 billion entity – you don’t come up with capital plans for the next five years because Labour puts out a press release.”

He also denied that National was  looting Housing NZ;

“We don’t accept that taking the dividend is stealing from state housing, because the dividend is not the constraint on what gets built…

…If there was less dividend, we’d just put in more capital – it’s not driven by the availability of the cash.”

National takes money in the form of dividends and taxes  from Housing NZ – whilst non-government charities are tax-free? And he earnestly claims it is not “stealing”?!

English then issued the most ridiculous explanation ever heard, that the figures in this year’s May 26 Budget “appear to be based on older HNZ numbers dating from almost a year ago“.

Yeah, right, Bill.

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flying-pig-clipart-1

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Is the Finance Minister really expecting New Zealanders to believe that the government’s May 2016 budget was full of inaccurate figures?

What is really galling is that Bill English, Steven Joyce, and other National Ministers expect us – the public – to believe this rubbish. It is revealing just how stupid they think we are.

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Who is in charge anyway?!

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Whenever National implements unpopular legislative changes, they often point to Labour having carried out similar policies.

In 2014, National “borrowed” Labour’s policy by implementing free health-care for children under 13.

Last year, National raised benefits by $25 (to take effect this year) for people on welfare.

This year, having their ‘hand forced’ by Labour’s housing policy, the Nats have cancelled dividends from Housing NZ for the next two years.

National seems to be highly influence by Labour.

Which  raises the question; who is actually setting policy and governing the country? Because it appears we almost have a de facto Labour Government pulling the strings.

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A Cautionary Note for Labour

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On TVNZ’s Q+A on 10 July, Corin Dann quizzed Andrew Little on Labour’s policy toward Housing NZ tenants. Corin  Dann specifically asked Little about whether or not tenants should have state houses for life;

Corin Dann: You talk about state houses – an extra thousand state houses. Does Labour believe that someone should have a state house for life?

Andrew Little: I think we think when people are in circumstances where they can’t afford to buy their own home, can’t afford to rent, they’ve got to have a home. They’ve got to have a home, get their life on track, underway.

Corin Dann: Do they have it for life?

Andrew Little: If they’re at a point in their life where their circumstances have changed, and actually, they can afford to buy, my view is I would rather work with them to get them to buy that house so we could then release some funds to build the next state house.

Corin Dann: So you keen National’s policy? They don’t keep them for life?

Andrew Little: Well, I don’t agree with the policy that says we’ll target elderly people on fixed incomes in a state house and see if we can toss them out. That’s not a solution to anything. But what I would say is people who have gone into a state house early, got their lives sorted out,…

Corin Dann: They should move on if they can.

Andrew Little: …the circumstances are right, if we can sell that house to them, why wouldn’t we? And use the funds then to build the next state house for the next vulnerable person.

Selling State houses to tenants is text-book privatisation policy for National, and was a prime plank for the Bolger and  Shipley-led governments in the  1990s.

It is a dangerous road for a Labour government to go down.

Selling a state house to a tenant may seem a kindly gesture from a  benevolent left-wing government.

But eventually a National-led government will be elected back into power. Their track record on selling State houses is evident and they would have no hesitation in taking a Labour policy of selling State housing to tenants and expanding on it.

This is thin-edge-of-the-wedge, slippery-slope stuff.

This is mis-guided to the extreme, and will provide a future right-wing government a ready-made policy to act upon. And not in a nice way.

If Labour is serious in returning to it’s social democratic roots, it would do well to think carefully before embarking on such a naive policy.

Instead, it should consider the following;

[1] Transience

Transience is one of the greatest problems affecting low-income, poverty-stricken families. Moving from one house to another is debilitating to such families – especially for children.

A government report states that transience for children can have extreme, negative impact on  their learning;

Nearly 3,700 students were recognised as transient during the 2014 year. Māori students were more likely to be transient than students in other ethnic groups.

[…]

Students need stability in their schooling in order to experience continuity, belonging and support so that they stay interested and engaged in learning.

All schools face the constant challenge of ensuring that students feel they belong and are encouraged to participate at school. When students arrive at a school part-way through a term or school year, having been at another school with different routines, this challenge may become greater.

Students have better outcomes if they do not move school regularly. There is good evidence that student transience has a negative impact on student outcomes, both in New Zealand and overseas. Research suggests that students who move home or school frequently are more likely to underachieve in formal education when compared with students that have a more stable school life. A recent study found that school movement had an even stronger effect on educational success than residential movement.

There is also evidence that transience can have negative effects on student behaviour, and on short term social and health experience

Encouraging families to stay long-term in State housing not only creates a sense of community amongst tenants; stability for fragile, vulnerable families,  but assists in the long-term stability and education of children.

Not only is a state house “for-life” fair, it provides real, tangible, long-term benefits.

[2] Guaranteed Tenancy

Low-income, vulnerable families in State housing must be given guaranteed, protected security-of-tenure.

Currently, tenants are exposed to the winds-of-change whenever there is a change in government. Their tenure is at the pleasure of right-wing governments, and mass-evictions have been commonplace under John Key’s administration;

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state housing insecurity

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A progressive government must do all within it’s power to protect such vulnerable families. Otherwise what is the point of throwing out right-wing regimes when their ideologically-driven policies no longer palatable, and well past their Use-By date?

Tenancies must be secured. Either by the use of long-term contracts, enforceable in Courts of law, or by some other means such as entrenched legislation.

Labour-led governments come and go.

But tenancies for our most vulnerable must be protected from the whims of others.

[3] State Housing Protected

As well as protection for tenants of state housing, state houses themselves must be entrenched and protected from the rapaciousness of right-wing governments.

In modern, First World societies, the power of contract is supposedly sacrosanct.

It should not be beyond a progressive government to use some means of contract-law to safe-guard state housing. Once this is accomplished, it should make it near-impossible for a right-wing regime to wreak havoc with the lives of the poor.

Perhaps it is time to look at how we can make the concept of contract-law work in the favour of those who have least wealth to lose.

There is much more work to be done.

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References

Scoop media: Key – Speech to New Zealand Contractors Federation

theyworkforyou.co.nz: State Houses—Sale and Disposal

NZ History: Construction and sale of state houses, 1938-2002

Housing NZ Corporation: Rent, Buy or Own – overview (archived page)

Beehive: State houses available to buy from today

TV1 News: First home buyers set to be disappointed with Budget

Department of Building & Housing: Estimated building costs (archived page)

Dominion Post: Inequality report ignores tax cuts for rich – Goff

NZIER: Home

TVNZ News: NZ economic outlook grim until 2013 – NZIER (archived page)

Interest.co.nz: Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders

Hive News: Hive News Tuesday – Key blames ‘Dirty Politics’ for lack of state house sale debate

Reuters: NZ Prime Minister says central bank should get on with housing measures

Parliament Today: Housing NZ’s Woes Blamed on Labour

TV3 News: Housing blame game flares up in Parliament

NewstalkZB: Govt accused of blaming Auckland Council for its own failings on housing

Sharechat: Key blames Labour for barrier to foreign buyer ban

Youtube: Bill English Blames Greens for Housing Crisis

Otago Daily Times: Homelessness increasing in NZ

NZ Herald: Auckland has the fifth least-affordable houses in the world

Fairfax media: NZ home ownership at lowest level in more than 60 years

TV3 News: Key – No housing crisis, foreign buyers’ influence ‘minor’

Labour Party: Andrew Little’s Centenary policy speech

Treasury: Income from State Asset Sales as at May 2014

Fairfax media: Labour’s plan to tax property investors slammed as ‘attack’ on rental property providers

Radio NZ: High Auckland rents forcing people onto the streets – Sallies

IRD: Company Tax Rate

Radio NZ: Housing NZ to pay Crown $118m dividend

Radio NZ: Housing NZ confirms it will not pay govt dividend

Fairfax media: Bill English denies U-turn after Steven Joyce reveals Housing NZ won’t pay dividend

National Business Review:  Govt blames outdated Budget figures for Housing NZ dividend U-turn

Metro mag: Opinion – Is John Key the finest actor of his generation?

NZDoctor.co.nz: Free care for the under-13s features in growth Budget

Radio NZ: Welfare increases – what $25 buys you

TVNZ: Q+A – Corin Dann and Andrew Little (video)

TVNZ: Q+A – Corin Dann and Andrew Little (transcript)

Te Ara NZ Encyclopedia: Housing and government – Total Housing Stock

Education Counts: Transient students

Dominion Post: Housing policy will destabilise life for children

Fairfax media: State tenants face ‘high need’ review

NZ Herald: Elderly, disabled included in state house review

NZ Herald: State tenants to make way for workers

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Budget 2013: State Housing and the War on Poor

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

Park-up in Wellington – People speaking against the scourge of homelessness

National and the Reserve Bank – at War!

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wheel estate

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 12 July 2016.

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Upper Hutt residents mobilise to fight State House sell-off

10 June 2016 6 comments

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Upper Hutt, NZ, 4 June – Residents in a State housing community in Upper Hutt are continuing to mobilise to strengthen opposition to planned sell-off of Housing NZ vacant land, and planned further demolition of so-called “un-safe, earthquake-prone” State houses.

Following from previous meetings organised by local community worker and activist, Teresa Homan (pictured on right);

.housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (4)

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– read out a petition to Bill English that has been launched calling on the withdraw of public-owned land in Trentham, Upper Hutt, from sale to private developers.

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petition to bill english

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[A full copy of the petition form can be downloaded here]

Ms Homan said she had already been gathering signatures and was “pleasantly surprised” that only a few people had refused to sign it.

Ms Homan represents the St Joseph Parish Justice, Peace, and Development Group. She said that the vacant land they were standing on had recently been filled with State housing that were homes to several families. She said some of families may have been relocated to other State houses further away in Timberlea, or private rentals elsewhere, up-rooting children from their local schools and disrupting their established education and local connections to the community.

Transience is a well-recognised problem for low-income families, as they do not have guaranteed security-of-tenure. A 2010 Ministry of Justice “working document” referred to hardship for vulnerable families, including transience;

Barriers to engagement in services by “hard-to-reach” groups include service level or structural barriers (e.g. location, hours of operation, cost, lack of awareness about availability, lack of cultural responsiveness, and poor coordination between services), and barriers specific to families and their situations (e.g. transience, low literacy, physical or mental health issues, domestic violence, lack of transport, low income, negative perceptions of services, and generally chaotic lives).

There is good evidence about how policy-makers and service providers can address these barriers and improve engagement by those who are hard-to-reach.

Ms Homan said the buildings had been torn down, ostensibly because they were “earthquake prone”. She added that that bulldozers and other wrecking machinary had had difficulty in tearing down the structures.

The land was now for sale to private developers. There is no guarantee that social housing will be built on the site. Ms Homan said she was fearful that Housing NZ would be moving fast to sell the land. She said,

“This is about this local community, but it’s also about land that we own as the public of New Zealand. So, once it’s [public land] sold, it’s gone. And it’s not about not allowing people to have private ownership of land, but this land’s owned by the New Zealand public.

…I think we need to hold onto the land we have for those families that can’t afford private [rental] homes.”

Ms Homan said she had been in contact with Housing NZ and when asked if they had claimed the demolished houses were the “wrong size, wrong place”, she agreed that statement had been used. She said she had lodged an Official Information Act (OIA) request  seeking an explanation why the houses had been deemed “wrong size, wrong place”.

[See related story: State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?]

One State house tenant, Wayne (pictured below,  in wheelchair) has been waiting for a new state house for four and a half years that is better suited to his disability and use of a wheelchair;

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (8)

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Wayne said that whilst he had ramped access to his home, and a wet-area in the bathroom, that the rooms in his house and doorways  were too small to accomodate his frame and wheelchair. He said he was waiting for an appointment with Upper Hutt mayor, Wayne Guppy, to discuss his case.

About twenty people from the local  community turned up for the petition launch;

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (2)

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Their signs publicised the concerns they felt at how Housing NZ and the National government were impacting on their lives;

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (5)

 

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (6)

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (7)

 

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (9)

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One particular sign, bearing three simple words,  was hammered into the ground – a symbolic statement from the community to the National government and Housing NZ;

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (3)

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The size of the now-vacant land is considerable;

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (10)

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– especially when seen in conjunction with near-by properties;

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housing nz - state house sell off - upper hutt (11)

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Contrasting National Minister Paula Bennett’s recent announcement offering State house tenants $5,000 to leave Auckland, with the steady decline of state houses in the Hutt Valley, Rimutaka’s Labour MP, Chris Hipkins voiced his exasperation,

“So while the number of state houses in the Hutt Valley is shrinking, and people are being bumped off waiting lists because there aren’t enough houses available, the government have a genius idea to increase demand even further. This is just nuts.”

At a time of rising homelessness and on-going sell-off of Housing NZ homes and land, there is no indication that the National government is changing it’s policy-course. This is despite a recent public opinion poll which condemned National’s inaction of the worsening housing crisis;

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tv3-news-housing-poll

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Upper Hutt is just another community enjoying  National’s “Brighter Future”.

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References

Fairfax media: Answer to school transience needed

Ministry of Justice: Who is vulnerable or hard-to-reach in the provision of maternity, Well Child, and early parenting support services?

Radio NZ: $5000 moving grant ‘laughable’ without work

Upper Hutt Leader: HNZ land sell-off resisted

TV3 News: Government gets thumbs down on housing

Websites

Facebook: Upper Hutt State Houses 4 U

Facebook: Housing NZ Tenants Forum

Previous related blogposts

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

Letter to Radio NZ – Homelessness, Poverty, and the Final Solution

State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?

State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

Other blogs

TangataWhenua.com: Veteran Activist hospitalised during removal of state houses (2012)

Copyright (c) Notice

All images stamped ‘fmacskasy.wordpress.com’ are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

» Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
» Where purpose of use is commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
» At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals or groups.
» Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 June 2016.

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State house sell-off in Tauranga unravelling?

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State Houses – “Wrong place/wrong size”?

Last year (2015), National confirmed it’s intention to sell-off thousands of state houses to “community groups”;

Hundreds of state houses in Tauranga and Invercargill could be sold to independent providers in the first phase of the Government’s plans.

In January Prime Minister John Key announced that state house reforms would see up to 2000 state homes sold to “community housing providers” this year, as it cuts the number of state houses it owns by 8000 over three years.

Although the Government was marketing the process as “transfer” the houses would be sold to community groups, generally charity based providers. Because the houses would have to be kept as social housing rather than private sales, the houses were expected to be sold at a discount to the market value.

After nationwide consultation, Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said that the first sales were likely to take place in Invercargill and Tauranga.

In a blogpost in November last year, I pointed out the oft-repeated phrase used by our esteemed dear Leader and various Ministers;

Various ministers, including our esteemed Dear Leader,  have indicated that up to “a third” of state houses are “in the wrong place or wrong size (or ‘type’).

The “wrong size/wrong place” claim is the argument used by National to advance a major sell-off of Housing NZ properties.

On 1 November, 2014, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said on TV3’s ‘The Nation’,

“It’s about being smart in what we’re doing. So you just look at us having the wrong houses, in the wrong place, of the wrong size..”

On 2 December, 2014, the Minister responsible for Housing NZ, Bill English expressed his agreement with the proposition of one third of Housing NZ homes being in the “wrong size/wrong place” ;

“Yes. As recently as just last month Housing New Zealand issued a press release that said: ‘around one third of our housing stock is in the wrong place, wrong configuration or is mismatched with future demand’.

[…]

… in fact, a third of them are the wrong size, in the wrong place, and in poor condition.”

On 28 January this year, John Key announced in his “state of the nation” speech;

 “Around a third of Housing New Zealand properties are in the wrong place, or are the wrong type to meet existing and future demand.”

After lodging an OIA request with relevant Ministers late last year information released under the  Act suggests that National’s oft-repeated claim that around “one third” ( or 22,000)  of  state houses are in the “wrong place and wrong size” was not wholly supported by Housing NZ’s own figures. As I reported last November;

Housing NZ currently  “manages 67,245 homes” (as at 30 June 2015). When Key, and other National ministers refer to “around a third of Housing NZ properties”, simple arithmetic translates that fraction into 22,190 homes being the “wrong size/wrong place” .

[…]

In a response eventually received on  29 October 2015,  information in the form of a  chart -“Stock reconciliation taking into account impaired properties as at 31 January 2013” – was attached;

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minister english oia response 29 october 2015 - HNZ housing stock - wrong place wrong size

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In two columns headed “Right Place, wrong home” and “Wrong Place“, the respective figures add up to 13,560. This constitutes a little over half of the “22,000” that is being bandied about by National.

Like much of National’s “facts”,  the numbers did not stack up.

Which led to the last question I put to the Minister; “If HNZ houses that are in the “wrong place” are sold/given away to community organisations – what will make those houses suddenly become in the “right place”?

Because if it’s in the “wrong place” when owned by Housing NZ – why would it suddenly be in the “right place” owned by someone else?

The Minister’s response was baffling. In his 29 October 2015 letter to me he said;

“The Government has no plans to offer Housing New Zealand properties that have been
identified as being in the ‘wrong place’ to community housing providers. In Tauranga and
Invercargill for example, the areas identified for initial potential transfers of social
housing properties from Housing New Zealand to community housing providers, MSD’s purchasing
intentions anticipate stable demand. Following a transfer, any new provider would receive
both the properties and a contract with MSD to continue to provide social housing.”

[See full text of letter here]

English’s response seemed to cast a distinction between State housing “in the wrong place/size” and properties to be sold/transferred to community organisations.

Yet, his statement above would appear to contradict a statement issued by English and Bennett earlier on 6 May last year, which is explained further below under the heading, “The Great Invercargill and Tauranga Sell-Off”.

See: State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?

State Houses, “Wrong place/wrong size”? – Up-date

English’s responses to my questions were vague and offered little in the way of specific detail. In a follow-up letter to the Minister, I repeated two of my questions;

I refer you to two questions which you have not answered in my OIA request;

4. Where are they situated that are considered the “wrong place”?

5. How many areas have been designated “wrong places”?

His response arrived too late to be included in my November 2015 blogpost, but is still highly relevant to the growing housing crisis in this country. On 9 December 2015, English said;

“The analysis produced by Housing New Zealand  in 2013 and provided to you with my previous response [see table here – FM] identifies  the number of houses as being in the wrong place on a regional basis. No specific locations have been designated ‘wrong places’ and, based on this analysis, each region has some properties assessed as being in the wrong place. These will generally be in provincial  areas away from the main centres.”

[See full text of letter here]

In none of the Minister’s correspondence was he able to provide specifics as to where State houses were in the “wrong place”. The ‘best’ he could do was list five regions; Auckland East & South; Auckland North West & Central; South Island, Central North Island, and Lower North Island.

Surprisingly, Auckland was deemed to have  8,180 houses  that are supposedly “Right Place, wrong home”  and a further 420 that are in the “Wrong Place” – 8,600 in total.

However, the Minister’s data was contradicted by the 2014/15 Housing NZ Annual Report which confirmed the on-going high demand for housing in Auckland;

“Across the country we also have too many three-
bedroom properties, while demand has grown for smaller
one- or two-bedroom homes or for much bigger homes.
Demand for homes in the Auckland region is high and
more Housing New Zealand homes are needed.” (p22)

English did, however, point out that “these will generally be in provincial  areas away from the main centres“.

Even that has proven to be a mis-leading assertion from the Minister. Tauranga is certainly a “main centre” by most definitions, and the choice of that city would  prove to be embarrassing to National, as the next chapter below showed.

The Great Invercargill and Tauranga Sell-Off

As National began to roll  out it’s sale of State houses, Bill English specifically referred to State houses being sold in  Tauranga and Invercargill. On 6 May last year, Bennett and English released this statement;

“This is another important step to creating a more effective and efficient social housing sector with more housing providers supporting tenants and their needs.” – Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English.

As announced by the Prime Minister in January, the Government’s Social Housing Reform Programme includes plans to transfer 1000 – 2000 HNZC houses to registered CHPs over the next year.

“We’ve gone through a robust process to identify the first areas for potential transactions. Tauranga and Invercargill have been chosen because they have stable demand for social housing, and active community housing providers keen to consider the next steps. Providers in other regions are also interested.” – Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett

The same media statement referenced;

The Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) is designed to get more people in need into quality social housing – either through Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) or registered Community Housing Providers (CHPs). The objectives of the Social Housing Reform Programme are to:

  • […]

  • Ensure social housing is the right design and size and is in the right places for people who need it.

English and Bennett continued to exploit the “wrong size/wrong place” spin that National was using to disguise the privatisation of State housing.

Bear in mind English’s statement in his 29 October 2015 letter to me, where he said;

“The Government has no plans to offer Housing New Zealand properties that have been
identified as being in the ‘wrong place’ to community housing providers. In Tauranga and
Invercargill for example, the areas identified for initial potential transfers of social
housing properties from Housing New Zealand to community housing providers, MSD’s purchasing
intentions anticipate stable demand. Following a transfer, any new provider would receive
both the properties and a contract with MSD to continue to provide social housing.”

Obviously the Ministers find it difficult to keep their “story” straight.

In March this year, potential buyers for State houses in Tauranga and Invercargill had been lined up;

Four potential buyers have made the final shortlist to buy over 1400 state houses being sold in Tauranga and Invercargill.

[…]

In Tauranga, Accessible Properties, Hapori Connect Tauranga, and Kaiana Community Housing Partners made the shortlist to take over 1124 properties or tenancies.

However, even as National’s English and Bennett were prepping State houses for sale, the country’s housing crisis began to be reported elsewhere throughout New Zealand.

Tauranga was one of them;

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Housing situation critical - Tauranga principal - radio nz

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Tauranga gripped by housing crisis - sunlive

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Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars - TVNZ TV1 News

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Community leaders, social agencies call for urgency on 'housing crisis' - bay of plenty times

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People living in caravan parks while waiting for a rental - bay of plenty times

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Campsites for emergency housing debate - bay of plenty times

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People resorting to living in camping sites and caravan parks?

Is that what this country has come to after thirty years of neo-liberal “reforms”? To become a South Pacific version of America’s trailer-park “communities”?

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trailer park community USA

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If, by shuffling ownership of State houses from Housing NZ to “community groups”, National believes it will solve our housing crisis and growing homelessness – they are far more out of touch than I ever thought possible.

This is not just a stubborn pursuit of a free market dogma that has failed to meet basic social needs – this is pseudo-religious self-delusional behaviour from our elected representatives. English, Key, Bennett, Smith, et al, appear to be paralysed into inaction, like possums caught in the headlights of an approaching truck.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett floundering around like a beached cetacean. She first denied that a housing crisis existed in New  Zealand on 20 May;

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No housing crisis in NZ - Paula Bennett - radio nz

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Five days later, she was willing to bribe homeless and State housing tenants up to $5,000 to quit Auckland, making  a sudden announcement that caught Finance Minister Bill English off-guard;

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Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders and state house tenants to leave Auckland

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I have said it before and will repeat my conclusions that National is incapable of resolving this crisis. Considerable State intervention is required, and that is anathema to a political party whose very DNA is based on the free market; reducing State involvement in commercial and social activities; and promoting private good over community benefit.

It will take a collective anger from New Zealanders to take notice of what is happening in their own society. At the moment, so many New Zealanders seem insulated from the  growing social problems that are worsening with each passing day.

As Shamubeel Eaqub said on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, on 26 May, there is an absence of empathy amongst many New Zealanders – a moral-disconnect with the poor; the homeless; those who have been left behind after thirty years of failed neo-liberal theory.

Remarkably, Eaqub invoked the name of Michael Savage, when New Zealanders were capable of building and solving social ills. For an economist,  Eaqub has deep insight where we have arrived in the year 2016;

The only thing that’s missing now is aspiration and leadership,” he said.

Perhaps our economist friend has nailed the problem perfectly; 21st century New Zealand is not just suffering from economic poverty. There is a poverty much, much worse.

A poverty of spirit.

And that affects us all, regardless of wealth and income.

 

 

 

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References

Fairfax media: Invercargill and Tauranga chosen for first state house sales

TV3: The Nation – Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett

Parliament: 6. State Housing—Suitability of Housing Stock

Fairfax media: John Key Speech – Next steps in social housing

Letter from Bill English, 9 December 2015

Housing NZ: 2014/15 Annual Report

Beehive.govt.nz: Next steps in social housing reform announced

Fairfax media: Invercargill state houses may survive sell-off as Government reveals short-list

Radio NZ: Housing situation critical – Tauranga principal

Sunlive: Tauranga gripped by housing crisis

TVNZ News: Housing crisis hits Tauranga, forcing families into garages and cars

Bay of Plenty Times: Community leaders, social agencies call for urgency on ‘housing crisis’

Bay of Plenty Times: People living in caravan parks while waiting for a rental

Bay of Plenty Times: Campsites for emergency housing debate

Radio NZ: No housing crisis in NZ – Paula Bennett

Interest.co.nz: Paula Bennett announces plan to offer $5,000 to homeless Aucklanders

Radio NZ: Airport CEO, health leader & economist look at the Budget

Additional

Dominion Post: Housing MPs cost taxpayers more

Treasury: Social Housing Transactions

Other bloggers

The Daily Blog: Paula Bennett blindsides her own Finance Minister in desperate scramble to respond to housing crisis

The Standard: Newshub poll – Key’s government has failed on housing

The Standard: Bennett’s housing “announcement” is a re-announcement and a lie

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?

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emmerson - homeless - National govt housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 May 2016.

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Wellingtonians say; “Everyone deserves a home – no more homelessness!”

28 November 2015 3 comments

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“Housing is a basic human need and access to decent quality, affordable and safe housing should be seen a human right. This means that our society and more specifically the State has an obligation to ensure that everyone living in New Zealand always has access to adequate and secure housing. We further believe that this obligation means that housing needs to be considered as more than a commodity whose allocation is decided entirely by markets and the profit motive.” – Hikoi for Homes/Child Poverty Action Group

Wellington, NZ, 21 November – Around two hundred people gathered in Cuba Mall, central Wellington, as part of a nationwide day of protest at growing homelessness; poor standards of housing; state house privatisation, and lack of long-term stability in rental accomodation;

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After safety instructions were issued by Ian Harcourt, one of CPAG’s march organisers, the protesters set off through the streets of Wellington, headed to the Civic Square;

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Throughout the entire event, there was only a brief, sole police presence as one lone police car halted traffic to allow marchers to cross a busy intersection;

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Greeting the marchers at Civic Square, Nigel Parry and Ruth Prentice,  sang a song dedicated to Emma-Lita Bourne, who perished  in August 2014 whilst living in a damp, cold house infected with toxic mould. Nigel and Ruth page tribute to Emma-Lita, and to the coroner, who had the guts to speak the truth as to why Emma-Lita died needlessly;

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The number of protesters had swelled to around 300 people and constituted  a wide cross representation from the community, including many families with children. These were citizens concerned at the direction New Zealand was heading toward;

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Banners flew from the various groups involved with the day’s event, including UNICEF, one of the  organisers;

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Labour’s Grant Robertson was present;

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The first speaker, Dr Nikki Turner, from Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), addressed the crowd;

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Dr Turner reminded people that twenty years ago, New Zealand signed the UN covenant on the rights of children. She said this included a duty of care to ensure safe, decent housing for children. She asked, “so why are we here today?

She said that this is a national shame that New Zealand are not providing basic human rights for families in need.

Dr Turner said that as a General Practitioner she was seeing people turning up at her clinic daily, sick, from unsafe houses. They were “sick and recurrently sick, because the houses were not adequate“.

Dr Turner listed poverty-related diseases that were common to people living in damp, cold houses; asthma, colds, chest infections, pneumonia, rheumatic fever, chronic lung diseases, saying that  “our housing makes our children sick“. She said cold affects our immune systems, making people more vulnerable to moulds  and diseases shared through over-crowding.

If we fix our housing, we’re going to go a long way to improving our health in New Zealand,” said Dr Turner.

Dr Turner then listed seven issues necessary for government to implement, saying they were achievable;

  1. To stop the sale of all state and council houses,
  2. A one billion dollar provision to build more public and social housing,
  3. Minimum standards for all rental houses,
  4. Greater tenure protection for all tenants,
  5. A rent freeze for five years,
  6. A statutory right to be housed, as a human right,
  7. State subsidies for modest income-earners for home-ownership, as New Zealanders had a right to a home.

Dr Turner said that the current situation was unfair; costly; and affecting our children. She said that many of the medical problems caused by inadequate housing led to permanent, on-going crippling that would last throughout their lives.  “We need to fix this for the future of our community.”

Dr Turner was followed by Dr Philipa Howden-Chapman, from Otago University’s Department of Public Health;

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Dr Howden-Chapman pointed out that about a third of New Zealanders lived in rental accomodation. She said that many rental homes were cold and damp, far colder than what was recommended by the UN. She said “they were built in another age, when someone was home most of the time, ventilating the house, and keeping the fires going“.

Dr Howden-Chapman said many homes were between 12 to 16 degrees, making them no warmer inside than outside. She said babies were particularly susceptible, being unable to shiver, and losing heat much faster than an adult. Older people also got colder faster than fit, younger people.

Dr Howden-Chapman said that around a third of houses had mould growing in them. She said that mould at certain times of the year release spores and toxins, some of which were the most dangerous substances known.

According to Dr Howden-Chapman, New Zealand spends $3 billion per annum maintaining the roading network.  But there were no equivalent regulations  required to maintain rentals at a set standard or provide adequate heating or ventilation. She said Emma-Lita Bourne‘s family had an insulated house, but could not afford heating. By contrast, Europe had solar-heating on houses that constantly prevented  homes from dropping below 18 degrees.

“But we don’t do any of that.”

Dr Howden-Chapman asked why we have Health officials going around coffee-bars to check on hygiene or WoF mechanics to check the brakes on our cars, but no one is responsible to check on the quality of rental housing.

It was pointed out that a third of housing-related ACC costs could be saved if unsafe steps and other parts of houses were fixed.

She asked  “does this government care”?

Dr Howden-Chapman said it was disgraceful that Bill English admitted that the National government was the biggest slumlord in the country and could “dismiss the whole housing stock”.

She said that a small country of 4.4 million people should be able to work together, with government, local bodies, and NGOs co-operating so  that everyone had access to warm, dry, safe housing.

Dr Howden-Chapman decried New Zealand in the 21st century where children were found to be living in cars, camping grounds, homeless in the streets, or containers, or crowded houses. She said it was no accident that children regularly  miss school and fall behind in their studies, or end up in hospital Intensive Care, where many die.

She said “we can do better, we must do better“.

Dr Howden-Chapman demanded security of tenure for tenants so that the problem of transient families could be reduced. She said families in Housing NZ homes should be able to stay in one house for as long as their children were at school. Dr Howden-Chapman said it was vital that families moved from a state house be re-housed in the same neighbourhood so that their community links with other people could be maintained, as well as allowing children to remain in the same school.

She acknowledged that many New Zealanders cared about this pressing social problem and asked the government, “do you care?

Ian Harcourt introduced a musical group, ‘Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘. He said that while this protest was about speaking truth to power, that they the singers he was introducing were here to “sing truth to power”;

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One of the group’s “novel” acts was to engage the audience with participation; to ask us to raise our hands; extend two fingers; and wave it in the direction of Parliament;

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Choir, Choir, Pants On Fire‘ was followed by Ariana, from the State Housing Action Network;

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Ariana spoke of the formation of the State Housing Action Network as a response to Bill English’s announcement that National was looking at selling up to eight thousand state houses. She called the move despicable, given that there was a critical shortage of state  housing in New Zealand.

Ariana announced a petition calling for a halt to forced evictions from state houses, calling it a form of social cleansing. She described the privatisation of state housing as National’s determination to make a profit from the sales. Ariana warned that if National had their way, they would sell the entire housing stock, worth around $15 billion.

Ariana described National’s rationale for the sale, based on the properties being “run down” as just an excuse and nothing more. She said that National had a “track record of selling state houses”. She also pointed out that lack of maintenance of state housing had been caused by successive governments.

Ariana said that it was important that not only new state houses were built, but that the current stock should be brought up to standard.

Ariana congratulated the good work done by CPAG and UNICEF, as well as political parties like Labour, Greens, and Mana giving support. She said we have to work together on this problem by forming a strong coalition to oppose the neo-liberal agenda.

Ariana further stated that when market rents for state houses were introduced in the 1990s, it was predicted that it would be the single biggest cause of poverty increasing. She said that current policies by National were an extension of  the 1990s.

She condemned taking money from those at the bottom of the socio-economic heap, and transferred to those who were already wealthy.

Ariana called for an introduction of a capital gain tax instead of taking money from those who could least afford it. She said National agenda would eventually lead to charities taking over the role of providing for the poor, as in Victorian times.

Ariana said that the State Housing Action Network strongly endorsed the seven points put forward by Dr Nikki Turner (see above).

Ariana then led a chant,

“Everybody deserves a home!”

Following Ariana, was Martin, a state house tenant, with Kyrie in his arms (who seemed totally fascinated by the microphone in front of him);

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Martin described  a state house with nine people living in it’s three bedrooms. He said there was now seven people living in that house, including five adults. Of those people, Kyrie, the little boy in his arms, had athsma. He said such over-crowding was not conducive to good health.

He said he contacted Social Housing Minister, Paula Bennett, to complain of an open drain that was outside the property; the rotting windows inside; and the general state of disrepair. He said Paula Bennett passed him on to Building and Housing Minister, Nick Smith. Martin said Nick Smith advised him to take his case back to Paula Bennett.

Martin invited Paula Bennett to visit Kyrie’s delapidated state house to look at the problems herself. Martin said she refused. (Though this blogger can report that Bennett is not averse to visiting state or social housing when there is a photo-op involving a “good news” story.)

Martin said he had to phone his local MP, Annette King, to try resolve the problem. He said that remedial work was undertaken, but that it was “cheap and shoddy, and they’ve done repairs that are of no fit standard for people to live in“.

He said this was happening all over New Zealand and would be our future. He said Kyrie deserves better.

He encouraged people to stand together; stand strong, and to hold this government to account.

Following Martin, ‘The Ruths‘, entertained  the crowd with some beautiful singing. The songs were delightful, as well as political in flavour, in the best tradition of 1960s singer-activists such as Joan Baez. Ruth Mundy on guitar, with Ruth Prentice on violin;

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Following ‘The Two Ruths‘, Paul Barton, from the Christian Council of Social Services addressed the crowd;

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Paul spoke on behalf on the Living Wage movement, describing it as a response to the growing gap in our society between the rich and the poor. He spoke of the top 10% over the last thirty years having enriched themselves at the expense of the rest of us who have been told “we can’t afford higher wages“.

He said that the wealth gap is shown in the  housing crisis where “literally, this hits home”.

Paul said that the Kiwi dream of home ownership is fast evaporating with house prices rising and a growing number of the population resorting to renting. He pointed out that half the population now lives in rented housing. He said renters tended to be younger, poorer, and families.

It was pointed  out that the housing and wealth inequality problem was not due to “mysterious forces beyond our control”.  He said it has been a direct result of decisions our society has made how we share the bountiful wealth we have in this country. He said we needed to find ways to do things differently.

Otherwise, Paul said, we run the risk of a generation left behind in sub-standard housing.

Paul said the living wage was one response to this problem, where employers paid an income to live, not just “get by”. He said a Living Wage would not only allow people to pay their rent, but also save to buy their own home.

“And that way, paying a living wage overcomes part of the housing affordability problem.”

Paul congratulated the Wellington City Council for having the courage to pay it’s staff and security contractors the Living Wage. He said over 500 workers had had their wages increased from just above the minimum wage, to the Living Wage. He hoped that soon cleaning and recycling-collection contractors would also soon be covered by the Living Wage.

Paul related how workers and their families who had their wages lifted to a Living Wage were motivated to persist to make their lives better.

He added that the Living Wage has not happened “by chance” and that it was the result of a building movement for change. He pointed to the “wonderful support from you people here in Wellington” and said,

“We can achieve change but we need to work together.”

Paul said that people and organisations can work together to make a difference and reduce inequality, and that we did not need to wait for a change of  government or change the law.

He said that local authorities like the Wellington City Council played a major part in the Living Wage movement, and were an important part of our daily lives.  Paul said that Wellington City Council had a role in the kind of housing that we live in. He said that at the last 2013 local body election it was the Living Wage and building warrant of fitness that were the main political issues.

Paul encouraged Wellingtonians that next year’s local body elections also made housing, warrant of fitness, and social housing a major political issue. He encourage people to  get involved in “overcoming this awful housing problem“.

“Don’t say we can’t do something, because we know we’ve already proved we can make a difference.”

Deborah Morris-Travers from UNICEF and ‘Make our Future Fair‘ was the last speaker;

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The former Parliamentarian and currently National Advocacy Manager at UNICEF NZ, told the crowd that, as part of the United Nations, her organisation was mandated to stand up for children’s rights all around the world

Deborah stated that New Zealand Aotearoa was currently breaching the rights of its children by not providing an adequate standard of living, of which housing playing a major part.

She said that we all have a part to play in creating a nation that grants all New Zealanders safe and adequate housing, that lays the foundation for our communities and our society. She encouraged people to keep working together on these issues.

Deborah revealed that “the government is madly polling and running focus groups. They’re sensitive to the mood of the public.”

She said we have to keep building the public mood to ensure that our families are kept safe.

Deborah announced that UNICEF was launching the Fair Future Campaign and said that Radio NZ would be airing a story on children’s rights. She said that UNICEF would be working hard on this issue as National was about to start work on it’s next Budget.

“We have got to keep the message upfront in the news media, in social media, in our families, in our communities, that we will not tolerate our children being left behind.”

She said that every year $10 billion was spent on  “picking up the cost of child maltreatment and child poverty.” Deborah said this was unsustainable as well as being unjust.

Deborah asked, “What do we value in Aotearoa-New Zealand? What do we stand for? Surely it is be a fairer future.”

She said, “Housing is a fundamental human right. This about rights, not favours!”

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As the event concluded, a reporter from Radio NZ interviewed one of the  participants;

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As far as could be determined, Radio NZ was the only msm that sent a reporter to cover the event. Apparently TV1, TV3, print media, commercial radio, et al, were too busy still dealing with the global fall-out from Ritchie McCaw’s resignation from the All Blacks.

As the protest event came to it’s conclusion, this blogger turned to look up at the sky which had darkened with ominous grey clouds. Fluttering atop the Wellington Civic Building were the five flag-options for the present Flag Referendum;

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It was a sobering moment when one considered the symbolism of those five flags.

Notably the $26 million price tag that went with the Referendum.

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References

Fairfax media: Toddler’s death in damp state house a ‘broken promise’, says Labour

Fairfax media: Damp state house played part in toddler’s death

Interest.co.nz: Finance Minister English says govt… wants to reform state’s role as ‘biggest slum landlord’

Fairfax media: Social housing rollout opens doors for the disabled

UNICEF: UNICEF NZ calls on PM to make good on promise to children

Radio NZ: Hundreds march to demand action on housing

Radio NZ: Insight for 22 November 2015 – What More Can be Done for Children?

Additional

Radio NZ: Community interest sought for state housing

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

State Housing Action Network

Living Wage Movement

NZ Herald: New bill to give Government control over state houses

NZ Herald: Editorial – Housing hikoi sign of rising social unrest

Other blogs

The Standard: Hikoi for Homes

Previous related blogposts

Can we do it? Bloody oath we can!

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

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Salvation army - bill english - sale o=f state housing

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 November 2015.

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State houses – “wrong place, wrong size”?

6 November 2015 5 comments

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1949 state house in Taita

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Information released under the Official Information Act (OIA) suggests that National’s oft-repeated claim that around “one third” ( or 22,000)  of  state houses are in the “wrong place and wrong size” is not supported by Housing NZ’s own figures.

Various ministers, including our esteemed Dear Leader,  have indicated that up to “a third” of state houses are “in the wrong place or wrong size (or ‘type’)“.

The “wrong size/wrong place” claim is the argument being used by National to advance a major sell-off of Housing NZ properties.

On 1 November, 2014, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said on TV3’s ‘The Nation’,

“It’s about being smart in what we’re doing. So you just look at us having the wrong houses, in the wrong place, of the wrong size..”

On 2 December, 2014, the Minister responsible for Housing NZ, Bill English expressed his agreement with the proposition of one third of Housing NZ homes being in the “wrong size/wrong place” ;

“Yes. As recently as just last month Housing New Zealand issued a press release that said: ‘around one third of our housing stock is in the wrong place, wrong configuration or is mismatched with future demand’.

[…]

… in fact, a third of them are the wrong size, in the wrong place, and in poor condition.”

On 28 January this year, John Key announced in his “state of the nation” speech;

 “Around a third of Housing New Zealand properties are in the wrong place, or are the wrong type to meet existing and future demand.”

Housing NZ currently  “manages 67,245 homes” (as at 30 June 2015). When Key, and other National ministers refer to “around a third of Housing NZ properties”, simple arithmetic translates that fraction into 22,190 homes being the “wrong size/wrong place” .

On 17 September I lodged OIA requests to Ministers Nick Smith, Paula Bennet, and Bill English. Only English was prepared to answer – and even that took  42 days (30 working days) to eventuate after a reminder was emailed to the Minister’s office.

In a response eventually received on  29 October,  information in the form of a  chart -“Stock reconciliation taking into account impaired properties as at 31 January 2013” – was attached;

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minister english oia response 29 october 2015 - HNZ housing stock - wrong place wrong size

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In two columns headed “Right Place, wrong home” and “Wrong Place“, the respective figures add up to 13,560. This constitutes a little over half of the “22,000” that is being bandied about by National.

I  specifically asked Bill English;  “How many [state houses] are the “wrong size and in what manner are they the “wrong size“? “Do they have too many rooms; too few rooms?

English replied;

“In general terms, Housing New Zealand has a shortage of smaller two bedroom homes and
larger family homes and a surplus of three bedroom homes, with the exception of Auckland
where there is a demand for homes of all sizes. The type or configuration of particular
properties may also affect demand making them difficult to let.”

English totally ignored the direct question “How many [state houses] are the “wrong size“. He either does not know, or is unwilling to admit the number. “In General terms” is not a specific quantity.

Furthermore, English says that “Housing New Zealand has a shortage of smaller two bedroom homes and larger family homes and a surplus of three bedroom homes, with the exception of Auckland where there is a demand for homes of all sizes.”

Unsurprisingly, the 2014/15 Housing NZ Annual Report confirms the high demand for housing in Auckland;

“Across the country we also have too many three-
bedroom properties, while demand has grown for smaller
one- or two-bedroom homes or for much bigger homes.
Demand for homes in the Auckland region is high and
more Housing New Zealand homes are needed.” (p22)

Yet, the chart referred above (“Stock reconciliation taking into account impaired properties as at 31 January 2013“) states that there are 8,180 houses in the Auckland region that are supposedly “Right Place, wrong home”  and a further 420 that are in the “Wrong Place” – 8,600 in total.

This would appear to contradict the Minister’s assertion that “there is a demand for homes of all sizes” throughout Auckland.  Both cannot be right.

This contradiction is further compounded by the fact that, as of 30 June, there were 2,267 people on the waiting list in the Auckland City area;

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auckland city housing nz waiting list 30 june 2015.

Even where houses have been the wrong size, Housing NZ has been undertaking a programme to add extensions, or entire new, smaller dwellings on larger sections;

Overcrowding is an issue that affects many of our
tenants’ health and wellbeing, especially in Auckland,
where there is high demand for larger homes. Our
bedroom extensions programme is helping to meet
demand from the social housing register in Auckland
by converting three-bedroom homes into four- and
five-bedroom homes. Adding an extra one or two
bedrooms (and another bathroom where necessary)
means more of our tenants are living in appropriately
sized and healthier homes. During 2014/15 we
completed bedroom extensions to 247 homes.

Our existing land in Auckland will also house more small
families, couples and single people in need. We are
building new two-bedroom homes on Auckland sections
that are big enough to have another dwelling. During
2014/15 we built an additional 107 two-bedroom units
on existing Housing New Zealand sections, which also
included making improvements to the existing homes
where these were required.“(p23)

If we substract the 8,600 homes in the Auckland region, from Housing NZ’s original estimate of 13,560 (see above chart), this leaves 4,960 houses “wrong place/wrong size”.

Nearly five thousand homes supposedly in the “wrong place/wrong size” category in Auckland – and there are still 2,267 people on Housing NZ’s waiting list in Auckland City. How is that feasible?

I further enquired from English; “Could you please explain what the term “wrong size, in the wrong place” actually refers to? Where are they situated that are considered the “wrong place“?”

English replied;

In 2011 Housing NZ carried out an assessment of it’s future projected stock
requirements for the purpose of forward planning, based on its future use of intention of its
properties and informed by demand forecasting. This assessment was not intended to reflect
current demand at a point in time…

[..]

The analysis identifies some properties as being the wrong home, not specifically the wrong
size.”

It is worthwhile noting English’s comment that “Housing NZ carried out an assessment of it’s future projected stock  requirements for the purpose of forward planning,  [but] this assessment was not intended to reflect current demand at a point in time”.

The apparent purpose? According to English’s 29 October statement to me;

This relates to the number of bedrooms that a property has and also includes
properties that are wrongly configured to meet demand for social housing.

“Social housing” is National’s code for private providers.

The 2011 Housing NZ  assessment of it’s “future projected stock” appears to have been designed to meet the needs of “social housing”, aka private providers.

In respect to answering my question “Where are they situated that are considered the “wrong place”?”, English’s response was vague and lacked any informative value (as did many of his answers);

“A property being in the wrong place refers to the location of the property in relation
to demand. On a regional basis, there are areas of general low demand. However, some of
Housing New Zealand’s properties may be in locations with high concentrations of state
housing or existing social issues that may contribute to them being difficult to let or
result in a high turnover of tenants.”

There were no geographical locations; no cities or towns; no suburbs given. The statement in itself is meaningless twaddle with a vague reference to “some of  Housing New Zealand’s properties may be in locations with high concentrations of state housing or existing social issues”.

Where these “wrong places” might be is anyone’s guess.

My follow-up question – “How many areas have been designated “wrong places”?” – was ignored entirely.

In an effort to drill down and assess where houses might be in the “wrong place”, I asked English; “where houses are in a particular “wrong place”, how many people are on HNZ waiting lists in those same “wrong places”?

The purpose of this question was straight-forward. Where demand for housing is high in a given region, it seems inconceivable that any properties in that same region would be in the “wrong place”. Auckland being a prime example.

I wanted to know how many other regions had high numbers on their waiting lists – whilst also having houses in the “wrong place”.

According to the above chart, the following regions designated as having houses in the “wrong places” have the following numbers of houses attached to them;

Auckland: 420

South Island: 740

Central North Island: 870

Lower North Island: 1,740

“Community Group Housing”: 100

Total: 3,870

Because of the (deliberate?) vagueness of English’s response, we have no way of knowing where, for example, the South Island’s supposed 740 houses are located in the “wrong place”.

It is difficult to understand why the Minister could not be more precise.

If the “wrong size/wrong place” issue is real, then National must have hard data, with supporting numbers, identifying where state houses are located  in the “wrong place”. This information should be on-file; readily accessible; and easily released to interested parties.  Then again, my OIA lodgement to Minister English took 30 working days (including one “request” for an extension) to complete.

Perhaps such data does not exist.

According to Housing NZ itself, every district within it’s authority has people on their waiting list;

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Housing NZ waiting list - by region - by bedrooms needed

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Source

Source

There is no district recording zero-need.

I asked English; “What replacement houses are being built to replace those that are the “wrong size”, and how many rooms will they have? More? Less?” andWhere Housing NZ houses are in the “wrong place” – will new State houses be built in exactly the same place?”.

The Minister responded;

Housing New Zealand’s Asset Management Strategy provides for the redevelopment of its
land holdings in order to align the typology, location and size of its portfolio with demand.
As a result, it is building more two, four and five bedroom properties. Where there is low
demand, Housing New Zealand will look to sell surplus properties and reinvest the proceeds
into providing homes in areas of high demand.

As outlined above, Housing NZ has a current programme of adding bedrooms to existing three bedroomed houses, and, where the land is big enough, adding two bedroom houses onto an existing built-up section.

English’s reference to selling “surplus properties” is troubling, as we are still none-the-wiser where such properties exist. Especially when all Housing NZ districts have people on waiting lists.

As for English’s assertion that “Housing New Zealand will look to sell surplus properties and reinvest the proceeds  into providing homes in areas of high demand” – Paula Bennett was not willing to give that assurance on 1 November last year, speaking on Q+A.

Which leads on to the last question I put to the Minister; “If HNZ houses that are in the “wrong place” are sold/given away to community organisations – what will make those houses suddenly become in the “right place”?”

Because if it’s in the “wrong place” when owned by Housing NZ – why would it suddenly be in the “right place” owned by someone else?

The Minister’s response was baffling;

The Government has no plans to offer Housing New Zealand properties that have been
identified as being in the ‘wrong place’ to community housing providers. In Tauranga and
Invercargill for example, the areas identified for initial potential transfers of social
housing properties from Housing New Zealand to community housing providers, MSD’s purchasing
intentions anticipate stable demand. Following a transfer, any new provider would receive
both the properties and a contract with MSD to continue to provide social housing.”

That statement appears to be at complete variance with this undated Beehive document, headed “Social Housing Reform Programme – Media Qs and As“;

SOCIAL HOUSING REFORM PROGRAMME – Media Qs and As

“Around one third of the $18.7 billion Housing New Zealand portfolio is in
the wrong place or of the wrong type to meet this need.”

[…]

“To help community housing providers grow, there will be sales of
Housing New Zealand properties and we will involve these providers
in the redevelopment of Crown land…”

[…]

“Details will be determined after national engagement, including
with community housing providers and iwi,over coming months.
Providing we can achieve better services for tenants and fair
and reasonable value for taxpayers, we will look to sell
between 1,000 and 2,000 Housing New Zealand properties over
the next year.”

[…]

“15. Will properties being sold be tenanted, and if so what
happens to the tenants?

In most cases where houses transfer to a community housing
provider, the properties will have tenants. The new owners
will continue providing social housing with the income-
related rent subsidy.”

[…]

“Look at selling between 1,000 and 2,000 Housing New Zealand
properties for continued use as social housing, run by approved
community housing providers. These providers might buy
properties on their own or go into partnership with other
organisations lending them money, contributing equity, or
providing other services.”

The document specifically refers to the sale of state housing, that are “the wrong place or of the wrong type“,  to community service providers.

And in Parliament, on 24 March, Bill English himself made reference to the sale of “wrong place” Housing NZ properties to Community providers;

“In the first place, Housing New Zealand has an ongoing sales
policy, and often it is selling houses that we do not need or
that are in the wrong place, or some of them have just become
unsuitable to be lived in and cannot be upgraded at reasonable
cost. In respect of the transactions that are coming up over
the next 6 months or so, there is a process of testing what
the real values of those houses are. For instance, many
community providers believe those houses are not up to date
on maintenance, and therefore are overvalued when they are
valued as if they can be sold for the best price on the day
in the location that they are in. Those are exactly the things
we are having discussions about over the next few months.”

[…]

“Neither property developers nor community housing providers
are compelled to buy houses off the Government. If they do
not want to do that—if they do not want to manage the tenants
or own the stock, which may be the wrong size in the wrong
place—then they certainly do not have to do that.”

Which creates doubt over English’s assertion that  “the Government has no plans to offer Housing New Zealand properties that have been
identified as being in the ‘wrong place’ to community housing providers”.

So if Housing NZ properties that are in the “wrong place” are sold to community housing providers – as confirmed by Minister English on at least two occassions – what will transform those “wrong place” houses into “right place” houses?

Very little of National’s “wrong size/wrong place” proposition makes sense – unless viewed through the lens of raising revenue by way of partial asset-sales.

That is the only thing that makes any sense of this issue.

The only reason that the “wrong size/wrong place” meme has worked for National thus far is that very few (if anyone) has delved behind the phrase to check it’s validity.

Perhaps it is time this issue was scrutinised more carefully?

The apparent fudging of Bill English’s response to my OIA request, in itself, speaks volumes.

Postscript

On 29 October, I wrote to Bill English expressing my dissatisfaction with his response to my OIA lodgement;

from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: “B English (MIN)” <B.English@ministers.govt.nz>
date: Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 8:01 PM
subject: Re: State houses – wrong place, wrong size

 

Thank you for your letter dated 29 October.

I refer you to two questions which you have not answered in my OIA request;

4. Where are they situated that are considered the “wrong place”?

5. How many areas have been designated “wrong places”?

Please advise if you do not intend to answer those questions, and I will lodge a formal complaint with the Office of the OImbudsman.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy

Appendix1

In 2014/15 Housing NZ “returned” $321 million to the government’s Consolidated Fund. This comprised of $118 million in tax; $96 million in interest costs, and $107 million as a dividend. (2014/15 Annual Report, p24)

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References

TV3: The Nation – Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett

Parliament: 6. State Housing—Suitability of Housing Stock

Fairfax media: John Key Speech – Next steps in social housing

Housing NZ: 2014/15 Annual Report

Housing NZ: Register by priority and Auckland local board – 30 June 2015

Beehive.govt.nz: Social Housing Reform Programme – Media Qs and As

Parliament Today: Social Housing Reform — Objectives

Other Blogs

The Jackal: More homelessness under National

Previous related blogposts

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

Housing Minister Paula Bennett continues National’s spin on rundown State Houses

Letter to the Editor – How many more children must die, Mr Key?!

National under attack – defaults to Deflection #1

Another ‘Claytons’ Solution to our Housing Problem? When will NZers ever learn?

National’s blatant lies on Housing NZ dividends – The truth uncovered!

National recycles Housing Policy and produces good manure!

Our growing housing problem

National Housing propaganda – McGehan Close Revisited

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Tahi)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Rua)

Housing; broken promises, families in cars, and ideological idiocy (Part Toru)

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Housing NZ - state housing - over crowding

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 1 November 2015.

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