Housing Speech -Tariana Turia,
Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters (Information
Matching) Amendment Bill
Speech -Tariana Turia, Housing Spokesperson for Maori Party
Delivered 5pm Tuesday 13 June 2006
The Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Act is a sad case of ‘Play it again, Sam’, without a happy ending.
In its capacity to instruct Housing New Zealand Corporation and the Ministry of Social Development to look at the relationship between the income support system and tenants, it takes this nation back in time.
Fifty years ago, in this house, similar debates were being held on the future of housing and tenancy.
In opposition from 1949 to 1957, Te Uri-o-Hau and Ngati Whatua leader, politician Tapihana Paikea relentlessly highlighted the inability of the National Government to reduce Maori housing waiting lists. He described to the House the realities for post-war Maori who were living in fowl-houses, dis-used stables and market garden shacks.
Mr Speaker, there is little difference between then and now.
Titiro ki muri kia whakatika a mua.
Those who ignore the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them.
Paikea also drew public attention to the racial discrimination which was common in housing.
Three months ago, the Special Rapporteur reported on the significant disparities which continue to exist between Maori and non-Maori in areas such as housing.
This Government’s own Social Report, revealed that housing costs in excess of thirty percent of income are more common in households that include at least one non-European adult. This House needs no reminding that people who spend more than a third of their disposable income on housing costs are likely to be in poverty.
And who are those people who spend more than a third of their disposable income on housing costs? They are of course the poor, tangata whenua, Pasifika, new migrant and the proletariat on low wages. Those who traditionally ensured that their party, the Labour Party, would always stand by them. Yeah Right.
The housing profile is not the glossy Taubman’s tale that Labour would lead us to believe.
In actual fact, the proportion of Maori households who find they have spent more than a third of their disposable income on housing costs increased from eight percent in 1988 to twenty-one percent in 2004.
That’s a thirteen percent point increase in the number of households experiencing significant housing costs. Maori households.
The only difference between then and now, is that the fowl houses and market garden shacks have been replaced by derelict cowsheds, and abandoned vehicles, including buses and caravans. So what is different?
The difference lies in the remedy.
Fifty years ago, an exciting new scheme was introduced to respond to such disparities.
The desire of whanau to own their own home was realized through the Capitalisation of Family Benefit. This scheme placed the opportunity of immediate home ownership before those families who were previously unable to find the deposit to assist with the cost of a house.
I can safely say that the families of my colleagues of the Maori Party here in this House, had their family benefits capitalised, which enabled their parents to put a roof over their heads. A roof over their heads which they owned.
When your first child turned one, whanau were able to instruct the Social Security Department to accumulate their benefit without interest. The accumulated lump sum of family benefit was then added to the amount available for housing.
Maori applicants who wanted to arrange their whole housing proposition through the Department of Maori Affairs, could apply for capitalization of Family Benefit to that Department at the same time as they lodged their application for loan finance.
It was a one-stop shop - the Department of Maori Affairs dealt with the Social Security Department on behalf of the applicant, rather than running the gauntlet of officials or automated call-centres you might encounter today.
It was a highly successful scheme - a scheme which many of our whanau still talk about as providing them with a step towards self-sufficiency.
The ideal of self-reliance was also extended to those who may have experienced greater financial constraints - such as widows, or couples where the unemployment benefit was the only income.
In those circumstances, the Department had special provisions for dealing with their housing needs -options that meant they might not have to capitalize a desperately needed family benefit to obtain a new home.
While I am resisting the tendency to say they were the good old days, it does make for fairly grim comparisons when one contrasts the capitalisation of family benefit policy to this latest housing restructuring act.
The sadness is that whilst this nation may have got richer, the gaps between the rich and poor have widened; and for some families, the benefits of the trickle-down theory never arrive.
What has trickled down to the poor is poverty. The leaky home syndrome of the poor - a leaking roof, a broken sewage pipe, polyurethane weetbix as floorboards, and inferior workmanship.
While in the 1950s, the Government of the day was pursuing remarkably active policies to help citizens achieve self-sufficiency, in 2006, these new policies turn instead, on the tenants who’s greatest misfortune was to turn to Housing NZ for help.
The snooping surveillance strategies which will be set in place by this Bill, target a particular group of tenants with increased monitoring.
It is unnecessary. It is intrusive. It is discriminatory.
The Bill introduces a two-tier system of tenancy. It creates different sets of rights for Housing New Zealand tenants as opposed to other tenants. And isn’t it interesting that the Housing NZ tenants that are targeted are those receiving benefits and student allowances?
The focus is not about ensuring the capacity of every citizen to 'belong and participate' in a caring community.
It’s purely and simply, as my colleague Hone Harawira called it at the time of introduction, the ‘Snooping on the Poor’ Bill.
This Bill does not address the critical issues of rent reviews, budgeting, basic home maintenance, entitlement review, the over-inflation of rent which relates from extended whanau living arrangements. This Bill does not address over-crowding. It does not address increasing home ownership for the poor, but it does increase the ability of the state to carry out surveillance on the poor.
It fails to answer the call from a whanau living in a four-bedroom HNZ house in Otara, who came to the Maori Party for help to raise the issue of the housing crisis.
In this one home, there are currently fourteen people living there including one daughter, four sons, two nephews and five mokopuna. The family do not want to shift as they are established with schools and the wider community. They do, however, wish to extend their home to build on a couple of sleep-outs in order to accommodate all their children, but HNZ has declined.
I ask the House - how ridiculous is that?
Now in those good old days I mentioned before, this whanau could have capitalised their family benefit to build extensions - and still maintain their family home.
But with this Bill, nothing will change their situation - except they’ll be even more vulnerable to Big Brother snooping around.
The Maori Party wanted to let this Bill have a fair reading and that is why we agreed for it to get to select committee.
We wanted to be convinced that this Bill wasn’t just a new scheme to gang up on beneficiaries, to use information from one department to deny them their rights in another.
We wanted to be convinced that this Bill wasn’t just another part of the ongoing saga called the attack against beneficiaries.
But sadly, the two, and only two submissions received at select committee stage did nothing to give us any confidence that this Bill will make a difference for the better.
The Maori Party will therefore oppose this Bill as unnecessary, invasive, and another model of meddling for unforeseen purposes.
It whittles away the rights of Housing NZ tenants - many of them who are beneficiaries.
It fails to address the real issues in the sector- and it does nothing to achieve genuine progress for a caring community.
And that we can never support.