Activism for state housing

The government’s plans to sell state housing to community housing providers only come as a surprise to some. As Alan Johnson from CPAG has pointed out, the government was talking about this long before the election, but for some reason the MPs were rarely asked about it. Perhaps it’s attaching a specific number to the sales that made people sit up and pay attention. Now, there’s a lot of attention – op-eds, letters to the editor, tweets, public meetings, articles, and cartoons ( I love Bryce Edwards’ collection of cartoons on the issue).

Some people are taking their concern and turning it into action. For a long time, the Tamaki Housing Group has been a strong voice not only on the redevelopment of Glen Innes, but on the direction of policy towards state housing in general (I wrote a little about their achievements, and of other state tenant groups, here). Now, they’re organising a nationwide hui, on 21 February 2015, (event info here).

As they say, “state tenants are organising to fight back”. The organisers take particular issue with the government claim that community housing providers can do a better job than the state provider, the policy of reviewable tenancies, the removal of Housing NZ offices from many communities, the government’s “saying the homes are the wrong size or in the wrong place as an excuse to sell them”, and their “using every trick to blackmail people out of their state homes”.

Parties of the opposition are also vocal in their criticism.  Green Party housing spokesperson Kevin Hague calls the plan “economically reckless”. The Labour Party are encouraging people to sign an online petition that asks the government to reconsider its plans. Mana Newtown held an event on the sale of state homes last week in Wellington.

Many additional voices emerged from civil society just last week. Iwi leaders asked for a moratorium on the sales, due to potential conflicts with Treaty settlements. NGOs like CPAG emphasised the misdirection of the policy and the need for more state houses over state house sales. Public health academic Professor Michael Baker commented that that the sale of state houses was “not a substitute for a housing policy”, and that it “seems quite bizarre to be doing that in isolation.”

Perhaps the last time so many diverse voices came together on an issue of housing policy was the 1990s, when state tenants in the form of the State Housing Action Coalition, NGOs as part of the Housing Network, many researchers, and the opposition drew attention to the problems created by the introduction of market rents for state tenants. After nine years of action, this policy was reversed in 1999 (check out Te Ara on this).

Today, it’s great to see how many people recognise the contribution of state housing to New Zealand society (my small celebration here), and who want to work towards a well housed New Zealand.

1 Comment

  1. Phil Hayward says:

    I hope you support reform of urban planning as advocated by people like Hugh Pavletich and myself. I suggest reading some Demographia Housing Affordability Reports and taking a look at Real Estate sites for US cities that have managed to keep their median multiples stable at around 3 – like we used to have.

    I often point out that while having a median multiple of 6 or 8 or more is bad enough, the inflation at the bottom end of the market as a result of compact city ideology is always far worse. For example, in a median multiple 3 city, if the median household income is $60,000 and the median house price is $180,000, it is usually also true that the houses typically bought by the bottom quintile are around 3 times THEIR income – say $30,000 and $90,000. If you use search filters on median multiple 3 cities like Houston, Nashville, Indianapolis etc you will find $90,000 houses – I am not kidding.

    But in a median multiple 8 city, with a median house price of $480,000 for that $60,000 median income household, you definitely will NOT find $240,000 houses for the $30,000 income earner. The inflation is always worst at the bottom end. Approximately the entire bottom quintile will be priced out of the market altogether.

    The $90,000 house in the median multiple 3 city is no different, no worse quality or worse condition, than the bottom-end house in the median multiple 8 city – it is just priced fairly, that is all.

    Advocates of charitable involvement in housing need to grasp what is possible when you do not rig your urban land markets in favour of the wealthy big property and finance sectors, with urban planning.

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