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Speech: Marama Davidson - Green Party AGM

4 August 2019

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Intro / mihi

Ki a Papatūānuku e takoto ana nei, kōrua ko Ranginui ki runga rā tēna kōrua. Ki ngā tūpuna hei takoto te ara tika mō tātou te iwi o nāianei, tēnei te mihi ki a koutou.

E rere haere ana ngā mihi ki te mana whenua o te rohe nei. Ki ngā hapū o Ngaitahu, tēnā koutou mō tō koutou manaakitanga i tēnei wā.

Huri noa ki a koutou kua whakarauika mai nei i tēnei rā, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.

My friends, colleagues, whānau, and everyone before who have laid the foundations to allow us to carry your voices, and the future of our mokopuna, of Papatūānuku, into the halls of power.

I would not be standing here without your support, and I cannot think of any place I would rather be right now.

The people power represented in this room inspire me.

Actually there have been huge and inspiring moments of people power happening all around the world for the last few weeks, including here in Aotearoa.

I am feeling super energised by all of you in this room.

I would like to thank all of you who have come here this weekend, because of the commitment we share to our people, and our planet.

Yesterday, my co-leader James painted a vision of an Aotearoa that puts the climate and the wellbeing of our natural environment at the centre of everything we do.

And we know that the wellbeing of our climate and our environment is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of people.

Around the globe we are hearing the call for a more just and sustainable world.

We are seeing an increased understanding that the forces that have damaged our planet are the same forces that have concentrated wealth and power into the hands of a few, while many struggle to get by.

We are seeing The People demanding strong action on climate change and inequality, realising that they are interdependent issues.

And when it comes to inequality, one of the key areas to address is housing.

We need to forge a whole new approach to housing.

Our Vision

When it comes to the wellbeing of people, everyone needs a home.

Today I am offering up a vision for housing that moves away from housing as a commodity and back to a home as a fundamental human right, instead of a privilege.

What do we imagine when we think about the word ‘home’?

When I think about home I think about my haven of connection.

Home is where the people I love live, work and play - my tamariki, my new 12 week old mokopuna, my husband and my dog.

Home is the holder of my calm and my security.

Home is also the community where I want to be.

My children’s school, my sons rugby teams, my daughter’s netball team, our bushwalks and our dog park, our Manurewa marae and our neighbours.

But let’s face it. I’m lucky, I am privileged.

This sense of stability, calm and security shouldn’t depend on luck and privilege!

Too many New Zealanders do not have secure, affordable housing.

Too many New Zealanders do not have a sense of belonging in their community.

Too many New Zealanders are locked out of the housing market, and worse, they’re locked out of truly engaging in their communities.

And this is what I’m here to address today.

The Green Party has the opportunity now, in Government, to do housing and urban design differently – to build homes and communities, not just houses plonked on land.

We’ve have already been a part of good change.

With the Greens at the heart of Government we have:

Abolished letting fees to remove this unfair cost to tenants;

Extended subsidies for insulation and heat pumps so more people can afford to heat their homes;

Introduced improved standards to better ensure all rental properties are warm and dry;

Built more state houses than any government since the 1970s;

Extended the Housing First programme which recognises that people facing chronic homelessness simply need somewhere to stay.

Ensured all new state homes meet a high energy efficiency standard, and

Ended state house tenancy reviews for people who struggle the most.

This is such necessary progress!

But we know the scale of the housing crisis calls on us to do so much more – so, what’s next?

Houses must always be built to be energy efficient.

Our vision for housing is one where everyone has a warm, dry and secure home as part of a connected community.

The houses and communities we build today have to be designed for a zero carbon world.

This week I visited a local Dunedin passive housing development in its early stages of building and I have decided this is the sort of home I want to live in!

Not only is building energy efficient homes better for our planet, it is also better for families paying high energy bills and sending their children to the doctor because their homes are cold and damp.

Our climate commitments – our climate’s requirements! – must also be supported by our how we build houses and communities.

We can build to reflect our housing vision – when done with the community we can build high density cities and towns with gorgeous green spaces, creating affordable, energy efficient homes and connected communities, with low-emission public transport solutions.

We want to raise building standards for homes – and that’s just the start.

Defining the problem

The problems here have been obvious for too long.

I’ve said everyone needs a home.

And everyone deserves a home where you don’t have to worry, month to month, if you’ll get moved on by your landlord.

A home where you can put enduring roots down and be part of a community.

A home where you have a clear path to ownership, if you want it.

We need to reclaim housing – homes – as a public good, not just a nest egg.

For successive decades Governments have been running down the state housing stock.

The waiting list is more than ten thousand people.

This is because housing is viewed as something left best to the market, instead of core public infrastructure.

In order to move away from that profit driven approach and to redefine housing, we need a complete reset.

We don’t expect the market to provide public goods like healthcare, education, and public transport.

We are rightly proud of our commitment in New Zealand to public services.

The Greens are clear that housing is a public good, and needs the same treatment.

Housing should be about meeting the needs of the many, not generating wealth for the lucky few.

This is simply the right thing to do.

Re-balancing a failed market

In order to make home once again a public good and not just a commodity, we need to intervene in the market.

We know we need to tackle the housing crisis at the source, not just manage the results.

We have been relying on the market for too long.

A market which is designed for profit, not people.

A market will never prioritise social and environmental needs.

It is naïve to expect fairness for families, in a country with growing wealth inequality, through a market approach.

Our families and environment cannot sustain this market based approach.

It causes out of control price increases – squeezing already meagre family budgets.

It results in speculators flipping properties, taking home ownership further out of reach.

And it encourages bad behaviour – like real estate agencies punching down against tenants on social media.

Not only does the market encourage this behaviour – it rewards it.

The government currently spends a billion dollars a year on the accommodation supplement!

Subsidising private landlords, rewarding them with more money for a broken system, doesn’t fix the problem – it protects it.

Although the accommodation supplement is there to help, it is only an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff

It demonstrates how much of a failure our rental market is, that we subsidise private landlords to the tune of a billion dollars.

This money could be spent enabling not for profit organisations to provide a public good instead!

When parents are unable to house their children in warm, dry and safe homes, the failure is not just a market failure, it is a government, community and moral failure.

Housing is too fundamental to the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities for us to be timid.

We need to be brave.

The Welfare Expert Advisory Group told the Government that we cannot fix poverty unless we fix housing as well.

It’s been like this for so long, it’s almost impossible to imagine something different.

But let’s try anyway.

I imagine homes built for our communities, our country, our needs.

I imagine happy families, secure in their tenancies and their communities.

I imagine every. Single. Person in Aotearoa in a warm, affordable, suitable home.

For the first time in my life, the Government is starting to move in the right direction.

The Greens want more than a move – we need a complete about turn.

We know that a different world is possible. And we will take you there.

Our solutions

Today, we have policy solutions to signal a better approach to housing.

The Green Party is focusing on helping people who are renting, to be secure and in healthy homes.

What I want to focus on today is our rent-to-own policy.

We are ready to negotiate our Rent-to-own policy as part of the Kiwibuild reset

Rent-to-own is a simple solution that has been tried and tested overseas, and on a small scale here in New Zealand, by community providers such as the Housing Foundation and Habitat for Humanity.

We know that rent to own, done at scale, can be a game-changer for Aotearoa.

We are ready to negotiate our rent-to-own policy as part of the Kiwibuild reset.

Here’s how it will work:

The Government will build a home, or will work in partnership with an iwi, charity, or community housing provider.

Once built, a family moves in, knowing that one day the house will be their home.

For the first few years, the household pays rent – but unlike a private rental, part of their payment will go towards building equity in the home.

After a few years, combining this rental equity with their KiwiSaver, they will have built-up sufficient deposit to buy the home for themselves, and can continue paying off a mortgage rather than paying rent.

This means that the household will take the step from renting, into home-ownership, supported by the Government.

This is not merely a short term patch – it is a long term transformation.

Rent-to-own is an exciting solution that can offer a pathway to those locked out of homeownership, who are able to pay rent, but not enough to save for a deposit.

It would ensure stability for more households.

It would allow people to put down roots knowing they are not going to get kicked out when the landlord decides to sell.

I am leading Green Party policy work on this right now, to achieve our vision for Iwi, community and Government-supported rent-to-own schemes.

The Green Party’s rent-to-own policy will support those who are currently locked out.

It’s not about deposit assistance to those who are almost there already.

It’s about helping those who were never going to get there.

The upcoming Kiwibuild reset is an opportunity to solve the cause of the problem, not just alleviate the symptoms.

Instead, we need to focus our support on the people who have not been able to achieve this living security due to student debt, high rents, low wages, high housing costs and high costs of raising a family.

Imagine this world.

Imagine being a young parent, trying to find a place to live with your kids, and instead of looking just at private rentals, you had the option to buy a home through a government backed programme designed for your needs.

You could move in with the confidence that this home would one day be your own.

In my view this security and sense of belonging to your neighbourhood is the least we should expect. I will continue to work with government on our rent to own priority.

Other changes to the rental market

Currently nearly 40% of NZers rent their homes, much higher percentage for Māori and Pacific.

Renting in itself needs to be a dignified option for people rather than a second-class way to live.

People just want to feel secure in their tenancy, to live in a home that is affordable and healthy and suitable to their needs.

That is why it is important to pair rent to own with rent reforms, and other forms of homeownership.

So, we need to radically lift our standards for rentals. First I want to refer us again to better builds and healthier homes.

The Greens want to see more well-designed, higher-density apartments, townhouses and homes purpose built to be long-term affordable rentals.

The homes in the passive housing development I visited this week will be tested for their ability to reach the ultimate goal in energy efficiency and reduce the need for artificial heating.

They do this with things like triple glazed windows, airtight sealing and smart ventilation systems.

Now that’s the ultimate sort of standard I would love to see rolled out across the nation.

To lift standards and start to reach these energy efficient and healthier ideals, we need a “Warrant of Fitness” scheme for homes.

Tenants should not have to face the burden of raising safety issues to their landlord.

We wouldn’t allow people to lease you a dodgy rental car, why do we allow people to lease you a dodgy home?

Greens will keep insisting on an enforced WOF as a basic standard for our rental market.

We also need to address rental security.

This term, we are reforming the Residential Tenancies Act, and Greens want to see an end to no-cause terminations.

We should never allow for people to be arbitrarily given notice to move out of a rental property.

Greens will continue to work for this long held policy position of ours.

Alongside a rental WOF and ending no-cause terminations, we also we want to see better protection against runaway rent increases.

There needs to be an agreement, so tenants know how and when their rent will go up.

People who rent need a transparent and fair formula to see how and why their rents will go up and this will remain a priority of our work to reform laws around renting.

Papakainga, community and energy efficient housing

While we’re working to improve the building standard of homes, and the laws which govern renters’ rights, we also recognise that individual houses on individual plots of land do not work for everyone and is not always the best way to use land.

Collective models such as papakainga and co-housing need to be part of the solution.

The local Dunedin passive house development I mentioned is also a co-housing model, and it’s a model that reminds me of living in a marae community, a papakainga.

Building in this way needs to be part of our approach to State housing and urban development.

This site featured large shared green areas, shared inside gathering areas and diverse types of homes ranging from five bedroom multi-level units to one bedroom flats.

This papakainga type passive house living would allow for better human connections and community, easier intergenerational exchange, alleviate loneliness and promote more sustainable and affordable living.

Greens want to see support for this approach to the house building sector to scale up, to be the dominating way we build communities.

This is an essential part of setting Aotearoa on a path to net zero carbon.

On this we will look to support iwi, hapū, local government, and non-profit community housing providers.

Boosting State Housing

Renting from one state, iwi, community and local government providers needs to be become a normal part of a balanced housing market.

The biggest state house building programme in decades needs to get way bigger! We need to aim for a wait list of zero!

We need to build more, and build better.

And I know that new state housing must be fully accessible as the default minimum.

It is not acceptable to have a long waiting list for wheelchair accessible state houses.

As a default state houses should be designed, with the expertise from the disability community, with inclusive planning at the centre of our builds.

Greens will continue to champion this approach.

Ending Homelessness

The last important piece of our puzzle is tackling homelessness.

There is no excuse, in this comparatively wealthy country of ours, for anyone to be living without a home.

Greens remain committed to ending homelessness and advocating for the support to local grassroots groups to lead this work, as part of the government’s Housing First programme.

I also support a tangata whenua led response to homelessness.

Given that it is Māori who are disproportionately living rough – the work to support people into housing must take it’s guidance from iwi and hapū.

I stand with this call that has come from people like Ali Hamlin-Paenga after she announced that Kahungungu social services would be supported to lead work to end homelessness in their region.

The Greens are clear that government needs to give over resources and power to the best placed organisations at a local level to do this mahi for their own people.

Closing summary

Governments have always had the power and the resource to interrupt the housing market that is not delivering for our people and our planet.

We think it’s well past time to be very honest and very brave, and use the levers to return housing as a core public good and a fundamental human right.

When we are facing entrenched inequality and poverty, an unstable climate, and rapid loss of species and ecosystems, we know that transformative economic, social and environmental change has never been more important.

The Greens have a plan to fix housing in Aotearoa.

Rent to own is part of our confidence and supply agreement, it is a priority for us and we will achieve it this term.

But this is just part of what needs to be done.

We will be focussed on building more public houses that meet the needs of EVERYBODY.

We are reforming our renting laws to make sure renting is a healthy, secure long-term option for those who don’t want to buy.

And we’re focused on building communities for everyone, homes that are good for our planet.

I am proud of what our team and I have been able to achieve in Government so far, and I thank you for listening to what else we want to achieve.

No reira tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora tātou katoa.

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