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Visiting UK housing expert provides hard-edged perspective

Futurebuiltnz - Media Release – 3 November 2012

Visiting UK housing expert provides hard-edged perspective on housing crisis

Following closely on the Government’s response to housing affordability issues in New Zealand, a visiting expert on social and affordable housing has suggested that the overall crisis in the housing market won’t change until attitudes to property change.

Mike Newey, a chief executive of the mid-sized Broadland Housing Association of 5,000 properties in Norfolk, was visiting Wellington in his capacity as Vice President of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, and is regarded as a leading figure in social and affordable housing in England.

In a wide ranging presentation to the annual meeting of New Zealand’s peak body for charitable housing providers, Community Housing Aotearoa, Mr Newey firstly covered factors affecting the housing market in England such as the dramatic mortgage lending collapse, and a familiar story of housing unaffordability being played out against an era of pronounced austerity measures.

“Austerity (measures are) having an undermining effect and I currently have 40 members of my staff dedicated just to coping with welfare reforms,” said Mr Newey. “When I see headlines in the likes of the Daily Express stirring up outrage at a simplistic correlation between the number of people in subsidized housing who are on welfare benefits I despair. It makes as much sense as a headline that says ‘Outrage: 75% of people in hospital are ill’!’”

Mr Newey described a shift that is occurring towards higher rents under a rubric of affordable renting, and the difficulties for his sector of operating under a tough and unsustainable model. At the same time he affirmed the large scale role played by housing associations and the fact that they offer a rare combination of rent certainty, regulatory safety and mutual support that is attractive to banks. “No housing association has ever been left to default on a loan, besides which housing is good for economic stimulus”.

The housing approach followed at Broadlands Housing Association entails a sharp focus on property management for the long haul (ignoring open market values by valuing social housing on its own terms), a commitment to energy efficiency to combat fuel poverty, an emphasis on improving life opportunities through housing and support provision, and ensuring residents are given a full role in governance of the association, with tenants holding a third of director positions.

The topic of whether the New Zealand Government’s response to the Productivity Commission report on housing affordability is going to conflate the private rental and non-private sectors, without expanding genuine social housing, was a key topic for a preceding workshop held by Community Housing Aotearoa (CHA) yesterday.

With the financial viability of CHA currently in question, the workshop focused on its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats from the point of view of members and longtime supporters. An agreement was reached to undertake an urgent internal review alongside securing a memorandum of understanding with the new Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and more data gathering from its 53 members.

The consensus at the meeting was that the Government’s social housing reforms are dependent, at least in part, on a strong community housing sector, that CHA has gained ground and that it can, in the words of Lisa Woolley of Auckland’s Vision West Community Trust, “step up further”.

Outgoing CHA council member Annette Sutherland noted the political advantage the sector offers to the Government as a safe pair of hands. “In the end the private sector want a profit and they’ll get it. We’re going for a dividend, a social profit”.

Fellow council member Sheryl Connell reiterated that for CHA “social housing isn’t about the house, it’s about the home and what’s happening in the home and community for the people who live there. That’s our core value”.

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