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Dr Pita Sharples: Affordable Housing

Affordable Housing: Enabling Territorial Authorities Bill

Thursday 4 September 2008

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader of the Maori Party

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Ten years ago, the Hikoi of Hope called on Government and community to urgently improve housing for low-income New Zealanders. 

Government was advised that if we really wanted to be seen as a socially just nation, we must recognize the link between housing and poverty; and act appropriately on the issues in that sector.

A decade later, does this Affordable Housing Bill do it?

Right on cue, the Social Report was released last week and provided the context with which to understand the importance of secure, stable and safe housing.

It is not a good news story.

It is a story of haves and have-nots; those who can afford to live well and those who can’t.

There is, of course, the fact that some fifteen percent of householders own an investment property including holiday homes, rental property, time shares and overseas property.

And then there are the others.

Since the late 1980s the proportion of New Zealand householders spending more than thirty percent of their income on housing has literally hit the roof – shooting up from 11% in 1988 to a massive 26% in 2007.

For Maori households the declining disposable income has become even more severe.  The proportions of Maori has risen from eight percent in 1988 to 29% in 2007.

Madam Speaker, affordable housing is a cornerstone of any programme to reduce poverty.  Affordable housing is essential to well-being.

Without housing stability, learning is hindered and opportunities for social and economic participation are seriously compromised.

There is a lot at stake, then, in thinking about the range of mechanisms available to ensure people on low to moderate incomes are able to access affordable housing.

And so we were introduced in the range of submissions and effort put forward into defining exactly what we mean by affordable housing including the specific suggestions of ‘income-to-housing’ costs ratios.

This, of course, has long been the view that we know of with the concept of poverty.  New Zealand does not have an official poverty line. The arguments have been put forward by Statistics New Zealand – it is too hard to set the level; too hard to take account of geographical variation in living costs; too hard to handle short-term periods of low income; too hard to adjust the measure over time.

And so with no poverty line, how do we really know the extent of the poverty gripping our communities?

The same will now apply with affordable housing – it is kept deliberately broad to enable territorial authorities to develop their own definitions to suit their own housing markets.

It is this deliberate flexibility which we in the Maori Party have some qualms about.

A little flexibility can be a dangerous thing.

The context of this Bill, in enabling territorial authorities to address problems of housing affordability in their districts, is one which essentially rests on thequality of relationships.

Relationships with mana whenua; whanau, hapu, iwi.

Of course we know that when iwi are perceived as investors, the relationships with territorial authorities are suddenly conducted with great haste and respect for all parties involved.

We were interested that the select committee report considered the possibility of amendments to the Resource Management Act for affordable housing.

The Maori Party supports amendment of the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Local Government Act 2002 to strengthen the recognition and decision-making authority of local hapü and iwi in their region.

We believe it needs amending to provide for appropriate representation of and engagement with mana whenua in decision-making in their rohe.

Such amendments would provide a more tangible way of spelling out the nature of the relationships sought with tangata whenua.

The critical issue that concerns us is how mana whenua are involved in the design and discussions around affordable housing in their districts. 

But there are other relationships at risk in this Bill.

Relationships with the so-called gated communities.

Relationships between ‘gated communities’ and those who seek to live in ‘social housing’.

Madam Speaker, there is an interesting paper produced by Sarah Walker which describes the effects ofgated communities and their regulation in New Zealand.

In that paper she describes the fortified pa of tangata whenua as the earliest examples of gated communities. 

Fortified pa provided a stronghold and a sense of security in the knowledge that there was somewhere safe to run to, to return to in times of trouble. 

It also meant that in the luxury of being separated out from potentially hostile ‘others’, the community was a safe haven where people could be free to be Maori, to protect each other, to store their food and supplies, to enjoy their cultural activities.

It is a fascinating context from which to consider the risks of simply importing another, different group within the midst of gated communities.

‘Pepper-potting’ state houses into the midst of say a retirement village, is bound to create conflict and uneasy tension unless due attention is paid to relationships.

The impact of high-density social housing developments must be comprehensively and carefully negotiated with our local communities if we are to achieve buy-in.

I want to return to the very basis of the need for social housing.

If we continue to accept that the market forces will determine price in the supply and demand world, then the poor will never ever be able to be safely and appropriately housed.

The God of the Market at whose altar we kneel, will determine the sort of life we lead.  But we must ask, is this right?  Should this be so?

High housing costs eat into the limited capacity of low income households to meet the basic needs such as food, clothing, transport, medical care, education.

We must ensure that the housing market is more efficient and fair; direct assistance for low-income tenants enables a basic quality of living standards to be met.  We know that community and social service agencies are seeing the real impact of increased accommodation costs on poverty.

And so we welcome the initiatives in retrofitting; the Innovations fund; and the developments the Minister has shared about renovating state houses and moving them on to the land. 

I was pleased to learn about the efforts made in the Matahi Valley for the people of Tuhoe; the efforts made to ensure a kuia in Nuhaka was able to enjoy better health and housing at the wonderful age of 92 years old.

But we must look past isolated examples to really understand the grim reality for so many New Zealanders that makes servicing a mortgage simply out of the realms of possibility.

The pressures on people are already too immense to create further stress on households by adding ever increasing mortgage repayments on to their already stretched budgets.

We will support this Bill, though we are greatly concerned that low and moderate income earners should be entitled to benefit from affordable housing.

But may not as very few tangata whenua have an income – or two incomes – of up to $80,000.

But we are also very concerned to explore every possibility for innovation in expanding options for affordable housing.  This is more than a matter of bricks and mortar.  It is about quality relationships, quality locations, quality decisions.

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