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Security of tenure critical

Tue, 10 Aug 2004

Security of tenure critical

Security of tenure is critical in achieving stability for our children and enhancing a sense of community, say a group of South Aucklanders who are campaigning for affordable housing.

The group, supported by Nga Manga o Mangere (a coalition of community groups), Labour, Alliance and Green Party activists and sponsored by the NZ Council of Trade Unions, worked together in a "popular planning" exercise to produce a submission into the Government's Housing Strategy, "Building the Future".

In their submission, the group says that in a society as wealthy as Aotearoa/New Zealand, there is no need for any citizen to be living in unhealthy, inadequate housing or to be paying housing costs that plunge them into poverty.

"This is the reality for thousands of South Auckland families and is a matter of political choice -- not necessity," says co-ordinator Jill Ovens.

Participants in the popular planning exercise (which involved three public meetings held in Mangere between May and July) identified unaffordable housing as a major cause of poverty, poor health and transience or moving around frequently, which affects the educational success of children.

They say in their submission that the $1 billion being spent annually on the Accommodation Supplement (essentially a taxpayer-funded landlord supplement) could be used more productively in funding public housing -- building State rental housing and supporting low-income people and families into home ownership.

"Buying or leasing 3300 State houses across the entire country over the next four years is simply not enough. There needs to be considerable investment in building new State houses. Leasing houses does nothing to alleviate the shortage of quality housing."

The submission supports increasing the number of State rentals through a Government-owned construction programme to ensure good quality, secure housing, but as a universal entitlement, rather than targeting extreme need, as is the case now.

"One woman told us she is paying $255 a week for a one-bedroomed flat. Her son has behavioural difficulties and sleeps in the bedroom while she sleeps in the living room. She has waited three years for a State house," Mrs Ovens says.

The submission quotes another example from the Manukau Courier of a mother with two sick children who is living with another couple as she awaits a State house. All three share a bedroom. She has been assessed by Housing NZ as having "moderate" needs, which puts her somewhere between 750 and 1500 on the South Auckland list.

Making the link between low incomes and poor housing, the group is calling on the Government to make further improvements in the minimum wage, to protect vulnerable workers, to support collective bargaining and unionisation of workers and to commit to full employment.

They also support a Universal Child Benefit to assist families with children, as well as other taxation and social assistance measures that increase the "take-home" pay of families on low incomes or benefits.

A recent study showed that more than one-third of Aucklanders in rental accommodation pay more than 40% of their income on housing.

"Just to make ends meet, low-income families in this situation are forced to take out loans with interest rates as high as 20% from the many money-lending shops in our area."


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