NZ housing crisis at critical point, leading economist says
New Zealand is at a turning point in finding a solution to its housing crisis, and the next steps will be critical, economist Shamubeel Eaqub says.
Eaqub, who is speaking to 160 delegates at the Community Housing Aotearoa-Impact conference in Wellington this week, says New Zealand has years of under-investment in housing to catch-up, and it will take the combined efforts of Government and the community housing sector to meet the vast need for affordable, warm dry homes.
“There are two elements to the housing crisis – one is the middle income New Zealanders being forced into renting for life, and the other is that we are seeing the most vulnerable among us being forced to the edges of society, the ghettoising of that part of our community.
“In that ghettoised community, we’re seeing issues like over-crowding, we’re also seeing them being pushed away from necessary amenities like access to transport, which impacts on the ability to access employment, education, and health services,” he says.
Eaqub says for those ghettoised communities, it is more than just providing a house.
“It is also about creating a pathway out of that desperation, as well as a house a lot of wrap-around services are required to give people the steps to get out of that trap they find themselves in.”
Eaqub says that the solution to the housing crisis will require both Government and large commercial players, as well as the smaller community housing providers who are able to provide specific, localised responses.
“The demand is big, the catch-up we need to do in terms of the number of houses we need to build and maintain over the next 20 years is large, so a fragmented housing sector is not going to work.
“We need to have some large players like Housing New Zealand remaining very involved, providing some of that bulk, some that financial capacity, but we also need the multitude of small providers because they’re the ones who are going to provide the very localised and very specialised services that are going to meet individual needs, “ he says.
Eaqub says until now there wasn’t a great deal of willingness within New Zealand Government circles to embrace the community housing sector.
“We’re now at a very important point in time where government is very interested in leveraging the community housing sector and to give it scale and the ability to do more in the community. The Government recognises it can’t deliver everything in terms of social outcomes for New Zealanders.
“The challenge is how do you get those social outcomes and still equitably fund and compensate these charities, because it’s not about fobbing off the problem to these charitable groups. We haven’t quite cracked that model yet – that’s what the pilots (sale of state housing to community providers) are trying to do in Southland and Bay of Plenty - to figure out if there’s a way that’s going to work better.”
Eaqub says while the community housing sector in New Zealand is in its infancy, what is known from international experience is that mixed model, mixed tenure is an approach that works.
“It creates much greater social cohesion and doesn’t create the same sort of stigma as just social housing or just state housing.
“For example, organisations like the New Zealand Housing Foundation are providing more than just social housing. They are doing some houses for owner occupation, some are shared equity, there’s long-term rentals, short-term rentals, and some state houses. That blended model does create much better and more resilient communities.”