Housing policy will destabalise life for children

Note: This piece is by Elinor Chisholm and Philippa Howden-Chapman and was published today  in the Dominion Post

High transience rates for children at our poorest schools are, as the Dominion Post reported, a huge problem for children and teachers.

Continuity of education and supportive relationships with teachers are critical for children’s educational performance.

“Churn” is not good for educational performance or enrolment in primary health care, where staff can ensure children are properly immunised and chronic health problems can be followed up.

It was for this reason that, in our submission on the Social Housing Reform Bill late last year, we strongly recommended that families with school- age children should be excluded from tenancy review.

Secure tenure and stability at one school would allow children the best chance of flourishing. In high- performing countries such as the Netherlands, children are explicitly discouraged from changing schools in the middle of the school year.

The bill had announced the extension of reviewable tenancies to all state tenants (new state tenants had been subject to tenancy review since mid- 2011). However, the housing minister, as well as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, had made clear that the disabled and the elderly were to be excluded from tenancy reviews.

In our submission, we acknowledged the Government for recognising the importance of secure tenure.

People who are compelled to move house involuntarily can experience stress, loss, grief and poorer mental health. Housing insecurity is also associated with poorer physical health.

Stable communities help overcome socio-economic disadvantage by providing opportunities for the pooling of resources and exchange of services. It is right for the most vulnerable to be shielded from the fear of displacement.

However, we learnt recently that not only will school-age children be included in tenancy reviews, but the Government will disregard its previous assurances of the protection of the elderly and the disabled.

Disabled and elderly people will be among the group that will first have their tenancies reviewed.

In response to questions, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said that in the first year, no elderly or disabled people will be asked to leave state housing. However, she did not clarify why their secure tenure is important for a year, but not beyond.

The fact that vulnerable groups are no longer excluded from the fear of tenancy review means that their future in secure state housing is no longer assured.

The change in assurances given in relation to the bill, after it has been considered in select committee, is not only unfair to vulnerable tenants, those with disabilities and children, but it undermines the democratic process.

Elinor Chisholm and Philippa Howden-Chapman are part of the He Kainga Oranga/ Housing and Health Research Programme, Otago University, Wellington.

3 thoughts on “Housing policy will destabalise life for children

  1. My reply is simple. Why are we not challenging these unjust government housing policies through the law courts the first paragraph on the NZ Human Rights Web page states:

    New Zealand Bill of Rights Act
    The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act places limits on the actions of those in government (including government departments, the judiciary, state-owned enterprises and local authorities) that interfere with the rights of individuals. The Bill of Rights Act also protects the rights of non-natural persons, for example, companies and incorporated societies.

    The National government are clearly pushing the boundaries on people’s rights to home and security they are breaching both NZ and international human rights by displacing and discriminating against the poor and making them homeless. These policies are unlawful and need to be tested in a court of law.

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

    http://www.hrc.co.nz/human-rights-environment/human-rights-legislation/new-zealand-bill-of-rights-act/

    1. Thanks for your comment, Philip. I don’t know whether this policy could be challenged in a court… I would have to ask someone who knows more about law, but I think that the introduction of reviewable tenancies is just a change in Housing NZ policy, and that state renters, like private renters, are subject to the Residential Tenancies Act, which requires only 60 day notices. But perhaps, as you say, there could be a case under rights legislation (though from what I understand, UN agreements are not enforceable until they also appear in NZ law, and we often pass legislation that disagrees with provisions of BORA).

      There are some interesting precedents for your idea: In Sue Morrison v Housing Corporation 1992, the legality of the rent notice in the transition to market rent was challenged at the Tenancy Tribunal and later the High Court. The courts found in the tenants’ favour and retrospective legislation was introduced to avoid a big payout. In Lawson v Housing New Zealand 1996, a state tenant applied to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision to increase her rent to a full market rent. Williams J found this was outside the ambit of judicial review, but did note the conflicting nature of HNZ commercial and social objectives at that time (Alston 1998).

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