The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers is concerned by many of the observations made in the government’s new housing stock take report, which was released this week.
The paper throws a series of urgent issues into sharp relief, chief among them the long-running problem of affordable housing, particularly for elder persons and low income families.
The International Monetary Fund has noted that Aotearoa New Zealand has the most unaffordable housing in the developed world, a state of affairs rooted in the fact that property speculation has driven up the cost of housing.
Social workers do their best to help the most vulnerable in society to find adequate housing, often struggling to be able to find emergency accommodation with limited availability; in other cases, social workers seek to place people in housing within a market that is geared more toward the interests of property owners than renters.
The sheer scale of the affordability crisis is spelled out by the difference between average incomes, including those for beneficiaries and elder persons, and the cost of rent. Between 2012 and last year rents for a three bedroom house rose 25 per cent while wages rose just 14 per cent.
According to TradeMe Property, the national median rent outside Auckland is $395, rising to $550 within the city. The median wage for a New Zealander in 2016 was $48800 per annum or roughly $938 a week, meaning that around 42% of a typical income outside of Auckland was spent on housing, rising to nearly 60% within Auckland.
When it comes to beneficiaries and those on superannuation things look even more difficult. A beneficiary over 25 relying on Jobseeker Allowance receives a maximum income of $357.45, which fails to even meet the average cost of a property in the private market. A family with three children will receive a little over six hundred dollars after tax, subtracting childcare subsidies which are typically spent on schooling.
A single person living alone on the pension will receive $780.40 after tax, while couples receive around $600 each. The average rent costs more than half of the single person’s income outside of Auckland and over seventy percent inside.
Previous assumptions had held that more people over 65 would own their homes mortgage free, whereas the report demonstrates that many people on Superannuation are still having to rent, and struggling to afford the costs of living.
In such circumstances, it is not surprising that nearly 30% of households are finding it hard to afford power bills and other essential items such as doctors visits, as the report notes.
Phil Twyford, housing minister, notes in the foreword to the report that in addition to such problems that “an unknown number of children are living in cars and thousands more are admitted to hospital every year with preventable illnesses caused by poor housing,” a trend he says highlights failures within the housing system itself.
For the homeless the situation
is even more dire, with the report highlighting that
up to nine in ten homeless persons who seek community housing are being turned away.
The crisis calls for more action by the government to support all New Zealanders, especially vulnerable persons, to achieve housing security.
“We call on the government to look at increasing the accommodation supplement for elder persons and those on a low income,” Lucy Sandford-Reed, Chief Executive of ANZASW said.
“There also need to be more efforts to increase the stock of housing, especially affordable housing, for the growing population,” she added.
“This can reduce the pattern of families living in appalling conditions in emergency accommodation, or people being forced to live in cars, sheds or unhealthily overcrowded houses in order to have a roof over their heads,” she continued.
“Children cannot get the best start in life if they are forced to live in cars or in housing where their health is put at risk,” she observed. “The housing system as a whole needs to be reviewed, with an emphasis on long-term solutions for children / tamariki and family / whanau.”
The report also found that a drop in state housing was increasing the level and risk of homelessness, particularly in Maori and Pasifika communities. This is due to policies designed to shift more renters away from state accommodation toward an unaffordable private market, as well as a decline in the availability of state housing.
"Terminating a state tenancy can have serious consequences and these former tenants are at risk of becoming homeless because they are likely to find it difficult to rent in the private sector," the report said.
ANZASW looks forward to a proactive,
bipartisan response to the findings of the report which
addresses the urgent issues of homelessness and housing