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Social housing reforms must strengthen communities - Caritas

15 August 2013

Social housing reforms must strengthen communities - Caritas

‘There’s no place like home’ on violin played in support of Caritas’ submission on the Social Housing Reform Bill this week. Caritas Advocacy Coordinator Lisa Beech played the violin as part of her state housing story to show that housing reforms must take communities into account, not just the housing needs of individual households.

Caritas’ oral submission to the Social Services Select Committee considering the Bill also included the experience of a state house tenant from Christchurch.

Caritas welcomed the government’s increased focus on housing affordability and intention to increase social housing, Caritas Director Julianne Hickey told the Committee. ‘However, any expansion of social housing in the community must extend social housing by State and private providers, rather than replace it.’

Caritas was also concerned about putting all State house tenants on one-year reviewable tenancies. ‘This could lead to greater transience that may break down poor communities where stability and connection are deeply needed,’ said Mrs Hickey.

‘Stable, secure communities are made up of stable, secure households. Insecurity in housing and increasing housing transience breaks down relationships of trust that are built up over time in neighbourhoods.’

Lamepasola Timu also spoke in support of the Caritas submission, sharing her experience as a member of the St James school community in Aranui, Christchurch.

Living with her husband and five children in a cold, mouldy house, Ms Timu told the Select Committee that the first time Housing New Zealand visited their home since the February 2011 earthquake was only last week. She said when Aranui state tenants are asked to vacate damaged houses for repairs, they are moved to other neighbourhoods, well away from the school and community that sustains and supports them.

‘When their former home is repaired, they don’t have a right of return – another tenant is allotted the home. So some people are moving in with relatives in order to stay in the community, and then Housing New Zealand asks why are so many people living there.’

Families are having to choose between staying in cold, damaged state houses; or losing community support by moving away from their school and neighbourhood to a distant suburb; or giving up their tenancy to move in with friends and relatives to stay in the community. This would worsen if they had to reapply each year for their house.

‘If it wasn’t for the connections we have through the school and the community, we wouldn’t have got through the past couple of years,’ said Ms Timu. ‘It is best for children in Aranui that they don’t have to move around and change schools. It is best for Aranui that people in the community are able to stay.’

Lisa Beech told the Committee how when she lived in Housing New Zealand flats in Petone, a long-time resident, a kaumatua figure, helped retrieve her precious 1840 violin when it was stolen from her car. He lived alone in a two-bedroomed flat and kept an informal eye on things.

‘From the perspective of his household, of his housing need, it might be easy to conclude that he didn’t need a two-bedroomed flat,’ said Ms Beech. ‘But our community needed him.... I hate to think of what it would have been like if our flats had been a series of unconnected households, rather than a community.’

In conclusion, she told the Committee, ‘Housing New Zealand should and must help people who are able and willing to move from homes that have outgrown their needs. But attention also needs to be given to maintaining and strengthening communities. Extending renewable tenancies to all state tenants will increase transience in schools and communities. Housing New Zealand and other social housing providers must be able to take community stability and community connection into account in allocating housing.’

Caritas full written and oral submissions to the Social Services Select Committee are available here.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.



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