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Housing Aotearoa launched

Thu, 28 Oct 2004

Housing Aotearoa launched

Speech by Housing Minister Steve Maharey at the inaugural meeting of Housing Aotearoa, 28 October 2004, Wellington- a new direction for the provision of housing in New Zealand.

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Thank you for inviting me here today, to be part of this milestone event.

I'd like to acknowledge Housing New Zealand Chief Executive Helen Fulcher; members of the steering committee; and representatives from the many community-based organisations here this afternoon.

Before I say anything else, I'd like to congratulate everyone who has been involved in getting us to where we are today.

Members of the steering committee - you have done a fine job, literally steering a group of dedicated people towards a common goal.

Housing Aotearoa - the name you are considering today - will empower and link organisations of all sizes with an interest in housing.

Establishing this organisation today is the culmination of the work you have done, and the clarity of purpose that has guided you over the past year.

In particular, I'd like to acknowledge those people who have been especially instrumental in this process: Richard Northey, Steering Committee Chair, Libby Clements, who has pushed for many years to see third sector housing established in New Zealand, and Diane Robertson who provided the administration support of her organisation.

Thanks also to Sustainability Ltd, which carried out the feasibility study that said, ultimately, that the establishment of this organisation is a good idea.

Thank you all for your time, energy and vision.

The landscape is changing

Today marks a new era for the provision of affordable, decent homes to New Zealanders on low and modest incomes.

We are no longer simply looking at the future of 'state' housing in New Zealand, but increasingly at the future of community-based housing, in which the state plays a supportive and enabling role.

Housing New Zealand is indeed the largest residential landlord in the country, and will continue to provide a mix of housing, and housing services, where this is most needed.

However, through the Corporation, this Government also supports innovative ways of working collaboratively to increase the amount, and type, of housing available.

The social housing landscape in the past has been a varying mix of state houses, council flats, accommodation provided by community groups such as churches, Maori and iwi housing groups and small housing trusts.

While they all aimed to provide good homes to people who needed housing assistance, the sector is fragmented.

The establishment today of a national housing network to pull together and empower the community players, shows the extent to which things have changed.

Through Housing Aotearoa, the housing work happening in the wider community will grow and have greater influence in the provision of affordable housing.

Partnership

In the area of social housing, "partnership" is a practical word.

The Government and Housing New Zealand are committed to working with community-based and iwi groups to identify local and regional housing needs, and ways of meeting these at a grass-roots level.

We know it's not easy - bold vision and drive has to be matched with practical knowledge, and commercial reality.

The people who best know what communities need are the tenants, local people, and those directly involved in social housing.

The sector includes a vast range of groups, with varying focus on housing - many are also involved in other aspects of social support - and varying levels of resourcing and expertise.

Groups of all sizes have helped set up this body.

There are the larger organisations that often have a nationwide presence, such as Habitat for Humanity, and church groups like the Salvation Army, or groups providing specialist care like Comcare or Pathways.

Some groups have a strong local presence, like the Lutheran Homes Trust in Palmerston North, the Community of Refuge Trust in Auckland, and Te Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust in Rotorua.

And all around the country there are many smaller groups of different sizes and means.

All provide an invaluable service to their communities.

This new peak body will seek to appeal to all these groups, in an inclusive way.

The Government, through the Corporation, has proactively moved to support community-based and iwi groups with an interest in providing housing.

Housing Innovation Fund

We've established the Housing Innovation Fund - $64 million over four years.

The Fund aims to build the housing capacity of community-based and iwi groups, and local government, to encourage more groups to increase their involvement in providing social housing. We are looking at flexible, innovative, ways to provide housing that suits people with different needs, around the country.

Housing New Zealand is working with 17 local councils on proposals, some of which are already ripening, such as Rotorua District Council's proposal to replace 24 old bed-sits with 30 new one-bedroom units.

The Fund also helps groups get themselves established.

So far, Housing New Zealand has had 76 active enquiries from groups wanting to find out more about how the Fund may be able to help them turn their ideas into new housing projects.

Of these, 31 are in the initial stages of investigation, and as I mentioned before, 17 of them are from local councils.

Since the Fund started, seven proposals have been accepted, and one - New Plymouth's Barrett Homes project to build five new units for people with disabilities - was recently completed.

New Zealand Housing Strategy

Looking to the bigger picture, the New Zealand Housing Strategy - which will guide housing policy over the next decade - is being prepared, and will acknowledge the complexity within the housing sector.

A partnership approach towards linking the myriad interests within the sector is essential.

It is envisaged that Housing Aotearoa will contribute to the success of the groups and the sector, providing leadership, advocacy and practical support to the sector's many voices.

Housing Aotearoa

Housing New Zealand worked closely with the steering committee to help it set up a feasibility study into establishing Housing Aotearoa.

The study aimed to garner a mandate and strong support from the housing third sector, for the development of the proposed national body.

It also aimed to identify the goals, structure and resources needed.

After consulting over 500 people and groups, Sustainability Ltd's verdict was that there was almost unanimous support amongst those consulted for the proposed organisation.

The report showed that those surveyed saw information, networking and advocacy as key issues, along with strong leadership and organisational independence.

Housing Aotearoa will receive funding from the Housing Innovation Fund to help it get established in its first three years.

The outcomes of the consultation will guide Housing Aotearoa towards its goal of sustaining and growing community-based housing.

It will also ensure Maori and Pacific community-based housing organisations are represented in ways that meet their specific aims.

The expectation is that, eventually, Housing Aotearoa will fund itself by brokering partnerships within and beyond the housing sector, and will balance the books through membership fees, events, consultancy services, sponsorship and other income streams.

Recent history A national housing network like Housing Aotearoa is not a new idea.

There have been several attempts over the past couple of decades in this country, but these were stumped by a lack of government support at the time, and barriers that are still evident today - such as dependence on volunteers, and the scattered geography of community-based groups.

We are essentially looking at the birth of an organisation to help New Zealand's fledgling community housing sector - comprising voluntary groups, not-for-profit and iwi organisations - find its feet.

Housing Aotearoa is charged with overcoming these hurdles, and connecting groups to create a critical mass from which the community housing sector will grow.

The organisation will be an independent national body, fed from the ground up by local and regional knowledge.

It will lead, advocate on behalf of, and support member groups - as well as providing an interface between the coal-face and government.

These are important functions, and high aspirations.

Other countries such as the United Kingdom have well developed community housing sectors that have been going for some time.

We know that the model is viable - the challenge is to define our own priorities, ways of working, and goals.

This time, it will float

I do believe the aims that have been discussed today are do-able.

The Government is committed to supporting the people and policy that will grow third sector and iwi housing.

The steering committee found that, when looking at similar organisations here and overseas, initial Crown support was crucial for those organisations to sustain themselves long-term.

Timing and momentum

Housing Aotearoa has been gifted great timing.

Whether by fluke or by virtue of an accumulative attitude shift amongst sector groups and policy makers, Housing Aotearoa is starting-up at a time when a number of developments in the sector have bubbled to the surface.

As well as the Housing Innovation Fund projects I mentioned earlier: § Community groups around the country are increasingly interested in the idea of setting up local housing forums, such as the newly established Nelson Tasman Housing Trust. § The Housing Innovation Fund road-shows around the country sparked interest and enthusiasm amongst community groups and local councils. § This year's hui and fono that fed into the New Zealand Housing Strategy consultation generated new ideas and interest.

There is a real sense of momentum within the sector, as there is today.

Adding practical value

One of the things that came out of the steering committee's research was that community-based organisations are crying out for practical help to turn their housing ideas into viable projects.

Practical help includes things like model documents, best practice guidelines, help with legal matters, and specific advice.

I understand that the organisation will - especially at first - have a strong online presence.

This will help break down geographical barriers, and will be an accessible medium through which to share knowledge and ideas, and empower those providing - and potentially providing - social housing.

While this approach will benefit emerging as well as established groups, it will also strengthen the third sector as a whole.

Over the longer term, this focus on practical support will enable the sector to sustain itself in an independent way.

The expectation is that, ultimately, this will result in more housing choice for New Zealanders of modest means.

Today's challenge

The inaugural council will take the organisation forward over the coming year and will next month meet to thrash out the next steps.

Over the next year, the big push will be on: § establishing a sturdy long-term structure § providing a system of practical support for local providers of community-based housing, and § being the national voice for these groups.

I understand the aim is to get the organisation to a point where its structure, membership and services will be well set-up in a couple of years, and self-funding in a handful.

The trick will surely be to strike a balance between putting energy into establishing the organisation, and devising and delivering services to attract and retain members.

Momentum is a powerful thing, and I think the turn-out today is a strong indication of a collective willingness within the sector to see this organisation succeed.

There is a lot to do, but it's important groundwork.

Certainly, everyone here knows you need good foundations if you want the house to stay up.

Conclusion

I have high hopes for what Housing Aotearoa will achieve, and am very pleased to be involved today.

You've had a great start - your vision and drive is clear to see.

Many people out there need what you can provide: good affordable housing, in communities, for communities.

I wish you well and look forward to hearing of your progress.

ENDS

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