Sue Bradford Speech: Housing Amendment Bill
Housing Restructuring (Income-Related Rents) Amendment Bill
Introduced to Parliament 25 May 2000
Sue Bradford Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand
The Green Party wholeheartedly welcomes the introduction of this Bill, and we are delighted that the Government has seen fit to bring forward the implementation of income related state house rentals as part of its first year legislative programme.
Along with the Labour and Alliance Parties we campaigned last year on a platform of affordable housing, believing that ideally housing costs should be no more than 25% of family income unless people freely choose otherwise. This Bill is an important and sensible interim step in this direction.
The move to reduce state house rents for low income tenants to 25% of their assessable income will have the effect of ameliorating poverty for up to 40,000 low income people. We have been critical of the Government's apparent lethargy in doing anything at all to help people on benefits since they came to office, so it is with enthusiasm that we welcome this Bill, and the new policy on Special Benefits, also announced today by the Hon Steve Maharey.
One of the worst features of the previous Government was its overt determination to sell off state housing stock, encourage councils to do the same, and to use the accommodation supplement as a subsidy to private landlords. The nett effect of this has been, as I think everyone in this country should acknowledge by now, to drive up rents and house prices and to hugely cut income for those already having the hardest time surviving. And as we all know, this has also lead to increasingly third world health conditions for many families and children, poor educational outcomes and family stress and breakdown.
It is high time that something was done to begin to reverse this cycle, and I have a feeling that members of the current Government have more familiarity with the caravan parks and overcrowded houses and sections of, for example, South and West Auckland, than any of their predecessors ever did.
However, this new Bill, like any Bill, is not perfect, and I look forward to actively participating in the Select Committee process as we work to improve it.
One of the key changes the Green Party will be pushing is for the inclusion of environmental responsibility alongside social responsibility as one of the principal objectives of Housing New Zealand. It is high time that the Government began seriously looking at the 'triple bottom line' advocated by groups like Businesses for Social Responsibility and many community sector organisations. The 'triple bottom line', as Dick Hubbard likes to call it, calls for organisations from all sectors to monitor and evaluate their operations and performance on three criteria - not only taking into account the traditional financial bottom line, but placing equal importance on social and environmental responsibility.
With this new Government apparently keen to make positive changes to the public service Bills like this are a prime opportunity to begin to make the triple bottom line a reality. And housing is a prime area in which to do it. The environment does of necessity have an integral relationship with all aspects of housing provision, from issues about where and in what association with each other houses are built through to the materials they are made of and the extent to which they conserve energy and other resources.
We would like to see Housing New Zealand committed to innovative building techniques, ecologically sensitive land development, the use of locally produced and non toxic building materials and to the promotion of energy efficiency and waste reduction within their homes.
In terms of the detail of the Bill before us today, there are some technical questions which need attention, for example in relation to the calculation mechanism, the way in which tenants are required to advise changes in circumstances, and in regards to rights of appeal. We are also concerned about the way in which Section 54 appears to contradict the Human Rights Act 1993, and we have some ideas about how this situation could be remedied, without displacing what we perceive as the Government's original intention.
Beyond this Bill, we share I'm sure with many others the unavoidable conclusion that reducing state house rents to 25% of assessable income will not in itself solve the housing crisis which currently exists.
There are already 2,500 people on Housing NZ waiting lists in South Auckland alone. Deposits and mortgages in the Auckland region are beyond the wildest financial dreams of most low income people. In much of Northland, the Bay of Plenty, and the East Coast there is endemic and desperate housing need.
The Green Party calls on the Government to urgently take the next steps needed to develop housing supply and access for those people and areas most disadvantaged.
It may be a hope of Government that this Bill when enacted will have a flow on effect into the private sector, so that private landlords will have to reduce rents if they cannot tenant their houses at current levels because of competition from Housing New Zealand. However, this will be dependent on state housing being readily available. If there is a demand crisis in state housing, which is entirely likely judging on figures like those quoted above, there will be little impact on rents paid by low income tenants in the private sector.
The challenge for Government is to implement a coordinated state housing building and purchase strategy on the scale needed in districts where need is greatest. This would avoid the problems of lengthy waiting lists for state housing which occurred in the 1980s, and would also ensure the state rental sector acts as an effective brake on a private sector where rentals have been artifically inflated over the last 7 years.
Government should also be open to constructive partnerships with local bodies in the housing area, and to encouraging a return by local government to an acceptance by it of some responsibility for meeting local housing needs.
Alongside this, there should be a commitment to involve community sector organisations, local people, iwi and pantribal groups and other Government departments as well as councils in forward planning. We need an end to the patch protection which so has so characterised the housing sector over the last nine years.
And Housing New Zealand needs to look at different models of housing. It has been a relief to note that even under the previous Government Housing NZ had begun to break out of its three bedroom 1950s Palagi nuclear family model when it built or bought new houses. However, we also need a Government department that can meet a whole diverse mix of living needs that reflect the very changing nature of the people who live in our cities and towns here and now.
The Green Party is not simplistic enough to think that the Government should or could solve all housing needs. Of course there is a role for all sectors, including the private sector, and always will be. But we would like to see a stronger Government commitment to not only providing more state housing itself at rents low income people can afford, but also to housing alternatives arising from the community sector. This includes initiatives like housing trusts, housing cooperatives and associations, rural eco villages, and self build housing projects.
Governments in this country need to begin to think beyond the old matrix of state and private provision, a model which has rarely served low income people well, and which doesn't begin to recognise the cultural, ethnic and spiritual diversity of Aotearoa today. We call on the Government to begin to look at providing assistance to the community sector through policies and programmes which can help with building organisational infrastructure so that community groups have the necessary resources and expertise to run housing projects effectively and well. Creating housing creates jobs, and this should be factored in by a socially responsibly Government as joblessness continues well above the 200,000 mark.
Government should also look at providing assistance with finance through subsidised loans or state guarantees. The community owned banking proposal which the Green Party has been working on for some time would also, should it ever came to fruition, begin to supply a capital base for community sector organisations working in the housing area, as well as being a source of loans for people living in the areas serviced by community owned banks.
I am also advocating an investigation by Government as part of its planned reviews of benefits and taxes into the possibility of returning to a low level universal child allowance, so sadly tossed out under a previous Labour Government. The universal child benefit was the one way many low income families in previous generations capitalised their way into home ownership, and I see no reason that we could not seriously look at doing this again.
There is a strong ethos of home ownership in this country which cannot and should not be denied, and a whole range of options needs to be seeded and supported.
In conclusion, I'd once again like to congratulate Mark Gosche and his team on pushing this Bill forward so that some financial relief for tens of thousands of low income people will come before Christmas, and we await further developments with interest.