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Community housing more than a 'missing market'

Media Release: Community Housing Aotearoa
17 December 2008

Community housing more than a 'missing market'

The description of the not-for-profit housing sector as a 'missing market' in briefings to new Housing Minister Phil Heatley has the umbrella group for the sector, Community Housing Aotearoa, asking why more is not being done to invest in social housing other than State housing.

"We agree with the briefings from the Department of Building and Housing (DBH) and Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZ) that increased investment in housing as a core infrastructure component is a way to protect New Zealand's economy from the worst affects of the current recession. Indeed these briefings cover almost identical ground in advising the Minister that the level of activity and productivity in housing, be it in redevelopment or new development, needs to be rapidly boosted," says Andrew Wilson, Chair of Community Housing Aotearoa.

"We too have a part to play in maintaining capacity in the building sector and in meeting unmet social needs for our increasingly diverse population. As HNZ points out the demand and high need for social sector housing will significantly increase in the recession. What we don't want to see is a narrow approach where investment in State housing is brought forward, as called for by HNZ, without any equivalently scaled size of investment being made in the wider sector, and specifically in not-for-profit housing projects."

"Our argument is that if community housing is sufficiently resourced we could see more successful models of community housing based on responsive and tailored approaches that build innovative housing units and long-term solutions that are seen elsewhere in the world".

CHA member the Wellington Housing Trust says that New Zealand is way behind other countries like the UK, USA and Australia where more social housing is being provided by not-for-profit organisations. The reason for this says their Director Alison Cadman is that "other governments have recognised that they can get more housing for their dollar if they fund the not-for-profit sector to provide social housing. The current model of State housing in New Zealand is uneconomical and if this government continues to only fund Housing New Zealand to provide social housing then sadly we will only get more of the same and a huge potential for change will be lost."

"DBH makes the point that New Zealand lacks a sufficiently coherent approach to housing and building policy. Officials are admitting that there has been limited capacity to look into key areas of opportunity more deeply. Investment in community-based housing is a key area of opportunity but we are concerned that the advice being given presumes our section of the housing sector will never be able to provide a significant alternative to State or private rental housing, and almost rules us out of contention," says Andrew Wilson.

"While there is a mention in the DBH briefing of doing more to bring together a wide spectrum of players in the social housing sector, it seems that the place of State housing on the New Zealand landscape is crowding out any serious thinking about alternative options for housing our communities into the future".

"Community Housing Aotearoa chooses to be more optimistic than that and is calling on the new Minister to ensure that the focus on housing in New Zealand is extended beyond State housing to include the contribution of our members, such as housing trusts, iwi associations and social service organisations. Commonly agreed positives that we have to offer include the potential for our sector to access a wider range of capital sources - such as philanthropy - and to attract longer-term investors than the Government alone, as well as forging partnerships with the private sector. We are also building our experience of working with local government agencies that are learning to be less risk averse".

"We recognise that community housing has to stand on its own feet and we are currently consulting on a comprehensive strategy written by and for the community housing sector (titled "Housing Our Communities") that doesn't marginalize what we do, but instead puts forward ways for us to build reputation, influence and capacity along with the need for a fund to 'kick start' community housing projects".

"Positively speaking it is encouraging to see that thought is being given to reconsidering the focus and application of the existing Housing Innovation Fund. The sooner the Government can channel existing funds to ensure our community housing providers achieve their growth potential and a self-sustaining scale the better. We have written to all key Ministers and Opposition Spokespersons this week to advocate this position so that we can engage in a positive set of discussions in early 2009".

ENDS

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