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Weather-tight Homes Resolution Services

Weather-tight Homes Resolution Services

Te Ururoa Flavell; Member of Parliament for Waiariki; Maori Party

Wednesday 13 December 2006

A couple of years ago, a Labour Minister Dover Samuels, spoke out about the lack of progress for addressing housing in Northland, Eastern Bay of Plenty, and the East Coast.

I absolutely agreed with that Member.

His comments came following the tragic blaze in Herekino which claimed the lives of three children.

The comments sat in the context of local GPs telling of cases were infections such as meningococcal disease were being spread because of sub-standard housing.

This was a time when people were living with no flushing toilets, no bathrooms, no septic tanks. In some homes, toilet waste was being poured straight into the ground; inviting Hepatitis A.

His comments were based in a situation in which Labour had promised to fix 2500 houses, but over a year later, work had only started on about 250.

Mr Speaker this was, and remains today, the situation for too many families; Maori families.

I know that throughout my electorate, Waiariki, how real these issues still are. Indeed, only last month, I visited Ruatoki, I visited houses in poor condition, reflecting low quality workmanship, many of them rotten, and leaking.

When one house was removed last month, it was evident that raw sewage remained. The houses are in a state of dis-repair; they have been described as “polyurethrene weetbix”.

And these are not isolated cases.

I am also aware in the community at Waitahanui who are located in Papakainga housing, that they have suffered much the same plight, as a result of housing being planted on swamp land, and the impacts of the low water table. I know of one family are forced to live in their sitting room due to the mould and damp in the other rooms.

So what does this context have to do with the Weathertight homes Resolution Service?

Well everything and nothing really.

The Weathertight Homes Bill has everything to do with addressing the leaky building crisis.

It has everything to do with considering the widest scope of claims for weather-tight deficiencies – deficiencies in which there is real damage but which have not, as yet, leaked.

And sadly, it has nothing to do with the deficiencies and damage which are still very much part of the lot for the Maori housing story.

For evidence of that, one only needs to turn to a report released in August of this year from Charles Waldegrave, Peter King, Tangihaere Walker and Eljon Fitzgerald – this was a joint collaboration between the Family Centre and Massey University.

The report, Maori housing experiences: emerging trends and issues, outlines in some 218 pages, the following conclusions:

“Home-ownership rates for Maori are lower than for the general population and have been falling since the 1950s…..Over-crowding, sub-standard housing causing health risks and inadequate heating have been identified as issues in need of attention for Maori.

Economic conditions and family structure have affected the ability of households to afford adequate accommodation”.

Mr Speaker, I come to this Bill, aware of Standing Order 107 and the need for all debate to be relevant to the question before the House.

And I want to say to this House, how can any Member possibly ignore the realities of lower-grade housing for Maori, when we are considering a raft of proposals to enhance the assessments and resolution of leaky building claims for other New Zealanders.

Let me be quite clear. The Maori Party absolutely supports the objectives of this Bill to ensure that Departments responsible for administering the Act will be helpful to claimants.

We believe that the public service is honour-bound to provide service to the public that is efficient, respectful and responsive.

We welcome the specificity of providing guidance and assistance to claimants to help them in understanding the assessment reports, to be aware of the advantages of early negotiation, and to make the process faster and less costly.

Surely these are the hallmarks of a transparent and accountable public service – that every effort is made to improve processes and to enhance case-management.

We are also pleased that the Bill actually tries to do something about the recommendations from the 2002 Hunn Report and the 2003 Government Administration inquiry.

The Hunn report identified the factors that contributed to leaky buildings, and issued 25 recommendations to address the systemic failures within the building industry.

The Government Administration inquiry resulted in some 63 recommendations – notably the significance of the development of consumer protection measures.

So all up, 88 recommendations later, we have a substantial body of evidence about the need for speedy, flexible and cost-effective procedures for assessment and resolution of claims.

And who could possibly argue with initiatives which try to improve the protection for customers, such as is envisaged by placing notices of Weather-tight Homes Resolution Services claims, on LIM reports.

Or the fact that the Service will provide free assessments to determine the extent of water damage to affected homes; and to provide access to mediation and adjudication services to help resolve disputes?

Certainly not the Maori Party anyway.

We support the establishment of a new Weathertight Homes Tribunal to provide strengthened adjudication services for consumers; and the intention for the model of dispute resolution to be based on a more investigative approach.

We believe the proposals seem comprehensive, and will do much to clean up the de-regulation of the building industry.

But Mr Speaker, I return to the concerns raised by Mr Samuels; the report outlined earlier, to put the call; when will one standard of law also apply in the case of Maori housing?

The study of housing experiences I have referred to earlier, builds on four crucial elements: * Literature review; * Analysis of census data; * Analysis of data from Te Hoe Nuku Roa longitudinal study of Maori households; * Qualitative fieldwork.

The qualitative sample included six regions, involving seventy people, and eight focus groups.

It is a very strong source of support to provide a basis to develop housing options for Maori from.

The question we would ask – how can this Government justify spending nearly $76 million on the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service since 2002; and yet turn a blind eye to the fact of New Zealanders squatting in shacks and caravans; families squeezed into pensioner flats; over 2250 rundown homes on the sub-standard list?

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party housing policy makes explicit commitment to ensure that Mâori housing experiences and realities are adequately researched and addressed.

The study I have referred to in this House makes a significant contribution we think, towards this goal.

We believe that we must engage and encourage Mâori participation to produce enduring housing solutions.

We will support the Weathertight Homes Resolution Services Amendment Bill.

But we also place on record the urgent and ongoing need for making sure the issues associated with Maori housing are given the due and serious consideration that they deserve.


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