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Coalition for Fair Rents Speech

Address to Christchurch City Council meeting to reconsider social housing rent increases

28 April 2008

Greetings.

Firstly, on behalf of the many people who are so concerned about the rent increases, our warmest thanks for being prepared to reconsider the decision, and for granting the coalition speaking rights.

There is good reason to reconsider the rent increase.

This morning you've heard Peter Johnstone explain in detail the calculations on the affordability criteria and the impact that has on tenants. When calculated correctly, this shows that a large number of the increased rents will exceed the affordability criteria.

When you first considered this issue former councillor David Close highlighted a number of areas that needed closer scrutiny. These included:
maintenance expenditure over the past four years and the level of surpluses during this time;
the assumptions behind the Cost of Consumption / Financial Sustainability Model that produced the target total;
and what has led to the change in thinking since last year’s Social Housing Strategy that did not identify the need for major expenditure in 2015.

You have heard Rev Jim McKenna explain the realities of daily life for many of your tenants, and the struggles that they face. It has been suggested that most tenants will qualify for the Accommodation Supplement and they will “only” have to pay an extra $6 or $7 a week. Even for those who do qualify for the Accommodation Supplement, the large increases in their food, transport and power costs will make life very difficult for them without this additional cost. We do not know how many tenants will not qualify for the Accommodation Supplement, but the coalition has heard from a number of tenants who will not. In the audience today is Di - you will recognise her by the walking stick and neck brace. She is on ACC and you will have her paying $27 a week extra that she cannot afford. She is not the only one. Please think hard about your tenant’s lives and needs before you vote.

There is a real need for objective data on how many tenants won’t get the Accommodation Supplement and what other impacts the proposed increase will have on their wellbeing. Council has shown leadership in the area of health in this city by being a sponsor of Healthy Christchurch. If Council takes this commitment seriously then it needs to undertake a formal Health Impact Assessment as part of its decision-making. This would quantify how many tenants will not qualify for the Accommodation Supplement. It would make clear the health impacts that a rent increase of this magnitude would have on tenants.

Neither the coalition or any other body can provide you with all the extra information you need to be fully informed about this decision. We don’t have the resources. Today you can take the opportunity to give your staff the time to bring together this information. More work is needed to clarify how you are going to define and assess affordability. More work is needed to scrutinise more closely the maintenance expenditure and the models used in previous work. More work is needed to assess the health impact on tenants. More work is needed to explore with the community innovative solutions to the problem that has been identified. There are many of us prepared to support that work.

We wish to acknowledge your courage in being prepared to revisit this issue. The city is taking a close interest in how you are dealing with it. It is not 'flip-flopping', as has been suggested, to reconsider something of this magnitude when further information and different perspectives are available. It is not leadership to grimly cling to a decision no matter what when there is good reason to reconsider. It would be irrational to refuse to reconsider because you don’t want to be seen to change your mind.

When it comes to a decision with the impact that this one does on the lives of people who are elderly, disabled or chronically ill it is not only irrational – it is unfair and unjust.

This is not a political issue. The people in the coalition cover a range of political persuasions and philosophies. The one thing we have in common is that we all share a concern for the tenants. It doesn't matter what previous councils did or didn't do. It doesn't matter which political bloc did what or wants what. The decision must be purely about finding the best answer to the issue. There is a need for a clear, consistent and rational theoretical framework and robust and complete data.to underpin any final decision on how to raise the sum required for renewals and refurbishments. Only by putting this in place can you ensure that your tenants, some of the most vulnerable of our citizens, are treated with compassion, justice and fairness.

Sharon Torstonson
Coalition for Fair Rents

ENDS

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