Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Government Shifts Social Housing to Private Sector

Common housing in Invercargill

The Southland Times has revealed that 209 state houses may be cut from Invercargill over the next ten years, over 50% of current stocks. Similar cuts are occurring across the country. Knowing what has happened in education and conservation I am fairly certain that no qualitative needs analysis has been done to support this decision.

New Zealand has one of the highest levels of under-employment in the OECD and around 20% of our workforce is either unemployed or under-employed. We have a large proportion of families being described as the ‘working poor’, who cannot live on their incomes without further support. 27% of our children are living in poverty and 17% do not have their basic needs met, and that includes healthy living conditions.

The Southland Times has reported on the growing number of families in Invercargill that are seeking help. Many are struggling to manage on minimal budgets and dealing with health issues related to living in substandard homes. The Salvation Army has also reported a need for housing to cater for growing numbers of homeless in the city.

In this environment the government decided to heavily cut their stocks of state housing and pass the responsibility of providing low cost homes to the private sector and slum landlords. Many families will now be forced to rent houses that do not need to comply to the same standards required of state housing or the warrant of fitness that is being introduced to them.

The quality of cheap rental housing in the private sector can be shocking and dampness and little insulation are common in cheaper Invercargill homes. The expense of trying to heat poorly insulated homes is beyond low-income families and, according to the Children’s Commissioner, there are growing numbers of children with respiratory infections, pneumonia and rheumatic fever that are directly related to poor living conditions.

Housing New Zealand Chief Executive, Glen Sowry stated, "In Southland there isn't high demand for state housing, and therefore we are looking to sell surplus properties..." I would be interested in what criteria is used to assess eligibility and therefore levels of demand. Given the number of families living in shocking conditions it doesn't appear that the unavailability of healthy accommodation is given the priority it should have. 

There is also some strange economic thinking when it is may soon cost the Government over $2 billion to provide the Accommodation Supplement to support families into private housing, much of which will be substandard. We should also consider the health and welfare costs involved with families being forced to live in substandard conditions. 

There is an urgent need for high quality, low cost housing and the Green Party's rent to buy scheme would be a great way of solving an initial shortfall and change the falling rate of home ownership.

Postscript: 94% of private rental houses could not pass a warrant of fitness in a recent survey of properties around the country. It is important to remember that the houses checked would have had permission from the landlords so these figures could be much worse. 


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