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On The Nation: Housing Summit

On The Nation: Housing Summit

Youtube clips from the show are available here.

Auckland leaders call for action by government: Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse wants a “use it or lose it” clause for Special Housing Area developers and restrictions on investor lending, while Tamaki Collective Chair Paul Majurey says government should require 50-60 percent affordable housing built on released Crown land.

Hulse: “Number one, sunset clause on SHAs and on land banking; secondly, let’s look at the amount of money sloshing around for people to buy investment houses; and thirdly, let’s challenge the fact that Housing New Zealand and basically the Government needs to make money out of housing.”

Majurey: “In terms of the pace of that supply and the percentages of affordable housing, those are too low. Why 20%? Why not 50%, 60% on Crown land? Why is the private sector being able to attain gain out of Crown land opportunities?

Majurey says officials are “falling over each other” and calls for a Housing Tsar to focus efforts.

Hurimoana Dennis says he spoke to Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett about his police investigation in confidence and she has apologised for the leak from her office, but says their conversations have been “very productive. Everything that I had asked for, she has given”

Te Puea marae Chair says social workers from “reputable organisations” have been dropping homeless people at the marae. Says it’s “terrible” and they’re “not the big agency that’s going to be able to fix this”.

Marae workers have done 55 needs assessments for people coming to the marae, including one seriously ill girl receiving chemotherapy. But he hopes to have good news for her family later in the week.

Prefab NZ boss Pamela Bell calls for leadership from central government, as industry are ready to build, but need infrastructure and land to build rapidly

“Houses can be produced in a factory in controlled environments within a couple of days. It can be assembled at site over a couple of days. It is purely unlocking the consent pathway, the delivery of infrastructure, the power, the water that takes the time.”

Salvation Army’s Alan Johnson wants government to start building houses on “vacant state housing lands”

Lisa Owen: So I’m joined now by Auckland’s deputy mayor, Penny Hulse; the chair of Auckland’s joint iwi group, the Tamaki Collective, Paul Majurey; PrefabNZ chief executive Pamela Bell; Alan Johnson from the Salvation Army; and in our Wellington Studio, Te Puea marae chair Hurimoana Dennis. Mr Dennis, if I can come to your first just to clear up a few things from the week, you’ve been at the centre of the news -can you tell us a bit about the police investigation of where it’s at?

Hurimoana Dennis: Kia ora. Look, at the moment, of course, I can’t, but Lisa, look, I need to respect the mana and tapu of the whanau that I went in to support and help. And the best way I can do that is to allow the investigation to take its course. And, look, I hope to hear the outcome of that soon.

So when you told the Minister about this, when you told Paula Bennett about it, did you think that was in confidence or not?

Well, of course. You know, it’s the respectful thing to do. She’s a Minister of the Crown, and just wanted to make sure that everything was transparent. Because, look, I’ve got 33 people back home at our marae in Te Puea who are relying on us to get them through some challenging times. So this isn’t about me. It cannot be about me. It has to be about them and the current living arrangement that they have, living in their car. That’s not acceptable.

So you thought, when you told Paula Bennett this, that it was going to be between you. So who do you say is responsible for the leak, and what do you think the motivation is behind that?

Oh, look, you’d have to talk to the Minister about that. She’s apologised to me, and that’s just where it is. But what I can say is that the conversations were very productive. Everything that I had asked for, she has given. I asked for four things. I asked that we work in partnership with her office and her team. I also asked that our marae remains the front door to the social service provision that we’re currently doing. I asked that she provide us with staff to work with our staff at the back of the marae. And I also asked that we get direct access to the transitional housing that her and her team are looking to develop. That way, it would mean at the turnaround at the back of our marae with whanau coming in would be quite small, a very short period. So, look, at the moment, it is business as usual, and we’re getting on with doing what needs to be done.

Mm. In terms of people turning up at the marae, I understand that you’ve actually had government agencies that are dropping people off to be housed at your front gate. Is that right?

Yes. Look, we’ve had that, social workers and even some family, to be fair, and some reputable organisations, and it’s been terrible to see that happen. And, look, we’re not the big agency that’s going to be able to fix this, but when you see that fronting up at the front door, you would have to say that that looks like a crisis, because that’s exactly what is happening.

Huri, let’s bring in the others here on this conversation. Alan Johnson, the government has offered up $5000 for people who will move out of Auckland. They’ve got these so-called flying squads, $41 million for emergency housing. They say they’re pulling every lever, so how have things been in the last month?

Alan Johnson: They haven’t changed much at all. In fact, they haven’t changed much over the last year or so. And so effectively, what the government did with their $41 million, that was something already in train. And it was a consequence of some of the work the Salvation Army had already done last year. So what they’re doing is responding to last year’s problems and really don’t have anything to offer for this year’s one, which, of course, are considerably worse, particularly with winter coming.

So what do we do for this year’s ones?

Well, I just think we need to get on and actually build houses. The reality is that the government has the capacity to provide capital to Housing New Zealand to build social housing. We all know that there are vacant state housing lands in Auckland that are slowing being sold off to the private sector for development. We could actually reverse that and start actually building state housing.

So it should be government, in your view, that builds these houses?

Well, our history’s shown us that if you really want something done, you do need the state to be strong and active and involved in the private sector. And we would suggest that that’s what has to happen again.

Paul Majurey, do you think there are still some things that we can do immediately? Houses take time – do you still think there’s some low-hanging fruit that we can deal with straight away?

Paul Majurey: There is low-hanging fruit, and a house is obviously important in terms of a place for our families, they most desperate and deprived families to live in. And so that land supply and housing fix is important. Within that, though, the setting parameters aren’t right. They aren’t working. In terms of the pace of that supply and the percentages of affordable housing, those are too low. Why 20%? Why not 50%, 60% on Crown land? Why is the private sector being able to attain gain out of Crown land opportunities? In terms of the funding, and this is an emergency – what Hurimoana has described is an emergency – people living in cars and on crowded floors is an outrage.

So, yesterday, the government had an announcement about releasing some Crown land in Massey, actually, and I think the 30% of those are going to be social houses. Not enough, you would say?

It is 20 affordable, 20 social. And just to talk about land supply, if we remember the infamous list of 5000, that was a couple of years ago. Since then, there’s been one offering of land, and at Moire Rd, about 195 houses. It’s going too slow. We have three Ministers involved in housing – why don’t we have, in terms of leadership from the Crown, a housing tsar type approach? We have officials falling over each other.

Hurimoana Dennis: Lisa, yeah, look, and I agree with what’s being said, but no one can actually tell us the homeless situation at the moment. I’ve asked how many people are homeless, and no one can actually tell me or put a number on it. Now, I’m on record saying that those who will become homeless are sitting on the waiting list for homes. And I don’t think there’s been any proper analysis of those people who are sitting on that waiting list. Because they are currently living in overcrowded situations. When that doesn’t work, families have been asking them to go and live in their cars outside their homes. And when that gets too much, they end up in the car parks. And the reason why I say that is because there is five themes that keep picking themselves up all the time, and that is overcrowding, eviction, below the poverty line, bureaucracy and poor decision making. That needs to be our starting point to strategically understand the situation if we’re going to try and deal with the pipeline. But all of these people are sitting on that list. And I don’t know if anyone’s actually looked at that properly. Building homes is fine. It’s a necessity, but there needs to be a good balance between that and understanding the problem. And I don’t think anyone today can actually tell us how many people are homeless. This is a new level of community that we’re talking about that are sitting below the poverty line.

Mr Dennis, everyone here seems to be nodding their heads in agreement.

Oh, okay.

Let’s bring Penny Hulse in here. There’s a lot of talk about a lack of land supply. Is there enough land out there to build houses on?

Penny Hulse: First of all, I just want to acknowledge Hurimoana and Te Puea marae. Thank you for stepping up. We’ve got a housing crisis. We don’t necessarily have a land-supply crisis, and I think that’s what continues to distort and divert the conversation. Most fair-thinking New Zealanders and Aucklanders would say people living in cars in a crisis, and that’s what we need to deal with. I think it’s been put really well by the previous speakers – we now need to say across government, for God’s sake, let’s stop confusing it between the three ministries, let’s stop pointing the fingers at local government and central government and get around that table in a cross-party way and sort this out and get those people into houses next week and in the next fortnight.

Well, Alan Johnson has said that the government should get on and build houses, but is there a role for iwi there, Paul?

Paul Majurey: Absolutely. So go back to that land list and the offering – we’ve had one so far. The next three or four, the iwi of Tamaki have put their hands up for those. It’s taken too long to get through. We have this issue with over-bureaucracy.

How long? How long is it taking? You say it’s taking too long.

So the point I made is it’s taken two years to get one offering. There are three or four more that are imminent. It just doesn’t work to have through Crown intervention, where we have an emergency, all the resources and levers being pulled. They’re not.

Pamela Bell, you work with a group of people who have prefab houses. So Penny says she’s got the land, that there’s land there with infrastructure; why aren’t you guys talking about putting houses up quickly?

Pamela Bell: Well, we certainly should be talking more, but it’s more about the action on the ground, isn’t it? Land is half the cost, and the housing, the design, the manufacture and the assembly of the house on site is a relatively fast part of the equation. That’s the easy part of the equation. It’s the land and the infrastructure that are holding things back. And we’re starting to sound a little bit like we’re pointing fingers at each other, but I think, you know, we’ve got some serious, I guess, regulation or system issues. We haven’t got any clear directorship and leadership coming out of central government in this issue. You’re absolutely right that we need to all be working more closely together. And I would just, on behalf of the people who make pre-built parts of houses -you know the industry is ready. It’s geared up, it’s ready to go.

So how long would it take you to put a house up?

Look, houses can be produced in a factory in controlled environments within a couple of days. It can be assembled at site over a couple of days. It is purely unlocking the consent pathway, the delivery of infrastructure, the power, the water that takes the time. Putting the house up is the shortest part of that equation.

Paul Majurey, you’re putting up houses quickly out south, aren’t you?

Majurey: We’re very proud, because we’re getting together the Crown, Auckland Council, through the SHA when it was going, and the tribes of Auckland, the 13 iwi-hapu of Nga Mana Whenua of Tamaki Makaurau. We’re the first SHA; first SHA to get resource consents; had families in houses 11 months after that; we’re 155 houses through, 35 under construction, and by next year, we’ll have just under 300 houses.

So why isn’t everybody doing that, then?

Well, we’ve got people who’ve got different motives. We have huge amounts of land, and going to Penny’s point, there’s not a lack of land; we have SHAs where people are land banking for gain. So again, it comes back to where are the levers being applied and the imperatives on not landbanking, having some set clauses on SHAs, the Crown and the Government bringing in interventions. That’s what it’s all about.

Is he right, Penny? Are people land banking?

Hulse: Absolutely. Not only is it landbanking, but it’s also the difficulty that we’ve got coming off the global financial crisis and the boom-and-bust nature of the building industry. So we’re trying to physically get houses built in a challenging environment. Where I think things have gone a bit off the rails is the Government isn’t reading the mood of New Zealand, which is it’s shifting from, you know, tax cuts and ‘don’t let the Government intervene’ and, you know, ‘let’s put the focus on making money’. Right-thinking New Zealanders want to see people housed, and I think in the last few weeks, I’m sure that if the Government went out and polled people of New Zealand, they’d say, ‘Hang on a minute. Maybe Housing New Zealand doesn’t need to return money to the Government, and maybe it’s time to pour money into getting those houses out of the ground.’

Pamela Bell, are people in the area you work in lining up to do this, though, ready to go?

Bell: Absolutely. Absolutely, and they are working as they can with the providers.

So why can’t you guys get together and make it happen?

Hulse: The gap is we’ve got extraordinary-

Dennis: Can I just jump in there. Lisa, can I just jump in there. Look, that’s the perfect point that you’ve just made. Look, we’ve all dropped the ball on this, Lisa, all of us – families, Crown agencies, the whole shooting box, community – we’ve all dropped the ball on this, because we’ve been trying to deal with this between 8 and 4. Agencies are trying to deal with this with business as usual, and you have two agencies that manage the current social housing stocks and also the priority list. They need to look like the same person or same group, but we’ve all dropped the ball on this. And I think it’s interesting that we’re all saying that we need to work together. That should’ve happened about five years ago. So what we’re doing back at the marae is exactly that. We’ve got on with doing the business of putting people in homes, and that gives us a huge amount of satisfaction. So this idea about a summit for everyone, well, that’s too late. That should’ve happened five years ago. I’m not too sure why we’re talking about that. We just need to get on with it.

Penny Hulse, just on the issue of land banking there that Paul brought up when he says people with SHAs are landbanking, do we need a ‘use it or lose it’ clause?

Hulse: That would be extremely useful, and what we also need is an imperative to stop the people simply making money out of landbanking, and, you know, this has been driven by the fact that there’s a huge amount of easy money sloshing around.

So you’d call on the Government to bring some kind of clause in that stops-?

Three things – number one, sunset clause on SHAs and on land banking; secondly, let’s look at the amount of money sloshing around for people to buy investment houses; and thirdly, let’s challenge the fact that Housing New Zealand and basically the Government needs to make money out of housing. I think that needs to change.

Alan Johnson, let’s talk about emergency needs and bulk-buying motel beds. If the Government is going to be spending money on that, which they are, would they be better off just renting houses?

Johnson: That doesn’t really help, does it? Because of course, you displace somebody else from that house. And so there is, I think, fundamentally a problem with- There’s just not enough affordable housing in Auckland, and when we mean ‘affordable’, of course, that’s a sliding scale, but something that a family on, say, $600 a week can afford to rent, and there’s just not that housing. We’re seeing rents rise as the squeeze continues, so I think fundamentally, we do have a supply problem, which isn’t going to be solved by simply rearranging the deck chairs.

Penny Hulse, it was raised a little while ago that councils should be eligible for income-related rent subsidies. Only community-housing providers and Housing New Zealand rentals can get that at the moment. Wellington Council said it would reinvest that money if it could get it. Do you think councils should be eligible?

Hulse: And this has been the complexity. The only social housing we’ve got at the moment is our old adult housing, and we’re now entering into a partnership with another agency so that we can access that- you know, the housing support. We just need to relook at all of that from the perspective of getting people out of cars and into emergency houses, getting people into safe and secure rental and also getting people into affordable housing, and that’s why we need to look- As Alan’s saying, quite rightly, it’s the whole continuum. Unless we’re getting long, secure rentals available for people, those people currently living in cars cannot be moved out into anything that gives them a stable future. The bottom line, however, is that we all need to believe that housing is the number one issue that we need to face, and we all hold parts of that puzzle. And I agree with Hurimoana. You know, there’s been a lot of talking. We’re boiling the ocean on this issue. Let’s actually just start with some practical initiatives right now. And between the Salvation Army and social agencies and the marae, they’ve got the answers.

Just before we go, because we’re running out of time – sorry, Penny, to interrupt you-

Majurey: Can I just very quickly acknowledge that the community housing providers’ CHPs are huge in this issue. They’re involved in Waimahia. They have the right motivations, and that’s not-for-profit.

Ok. Mr Dennis, before we go, you’ve had a very seriously ill girl at the marae, I understand, who has cancer. Can you tell us a little bit about that story? And just what happens to these people after August when the marae stops taking them in?

Dennis: Oh, look, we’ll have some good news later on in the week for that family, for sure, and we’ll let everybody know what that looks like. But, look, all I can say, Lisa, is we’ve done 55 assessments of needs since we opened our doors, and inside of that number is 11 families, which includes 49 children, or 95 heads, if that’s the word, and we’ve managed to house 27 at this point in time, and I’m sure by the time I get back to Tamaki, there’s probably going to be some more. So right now, we’ve got 33 heads at our marae. That’s eight male adults, five females and 20 children.

Can you tell me a bit about the girl who arrived this week? The girl who’s getting treatment up at Starship?

It’s a lovely family, a dad and five kids, nowhere to go, and, of course, she’s not well, but for us, we extended a hand, a manaaki, to her and her family, all of the families, and we’re pretty confident that we’re going to be able to do a lot more for them this week. But, you know, that’s not the point. For me, the point is we have these families fronting up at the front of our marae, and we’ve given a commitment to them that we will do the best we can with what we have to make their living arrangement a lot better than what it has been. So come the end of August- We’ve been very open to say that we’re here through the winter period, because it’s not good enough to be in your cars during winter. So we will start a transition period, if you like, from August, early August, to make sure that the families that we have got have got some homes or somewhere to go to, because we don’t want to be after August and we’ve still got 10 families there. But we’ve made a commitment to everyone who comes through our door. Contact us on ‘0800 tangata’. If they need our help, we’re going to help them as best we can, so we’re very confident about what we’ve got going at the moment, Lisa.

Thank you very much for joining me, Mr Dennis, and everyone else on our panel this morning.

Transcript provided by Able.

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