The social housing reform began in 2010 after a review of New Zealand’s social housing sector found that:
- The current social housing environment was not sustainable and was becoming increasingly unaffordable for the Government.
- Housing supply issues were making housing less affordable and increasing the demand for social housing.
- Government financial assistance with housing was not the same for state and non-state houses, and that there were not enough large scale or specialist non-Government social housing providers.
Legislation was passed in 2013 which allowed the Government to partner with community social housing providers with the goal to improve the social housing sector and diversify the way community housing is provided.
Social housing is such a critical part of society that at a fundamental level it ensures people living in New Zealand are afforded one of the basic necessities of life, which is to have an appropriate and adequate home to live in.
Recently, there has been much talk about how the future of social housing is going to continue to shift towards being provided in the community by Non-Government Organisation community housing providers. Currently Housing NZ is the largest social housing provider, providing around 68,000 social housing properties.
In the past few months the Government has been having discussions with a number of charities, social organisations and iwi groups over its plans to sell off thousands of state houses to private social housing providers. The reasoning behind this being that locally based providers are closer to their communities and could be more responsive to the needs of tenants.
The Salvation Army was named as one of the key organisation to pick up a social housing portfolio transferred from Housing NZ, however the Salvation Army pulled out of negotiations stating that: “The Army does not believe the lives of tenants would be sufficiently improved by such a transfer. Neither does The Salvation Army have the expertise, infrastructure and resources to successfully manage any social housing transfer of size.”
A large barrier to this transfer of housing stock is that the community organisations would be expected to pay for the houses at what would be market or near-market prices. None of the organisations involved demonstrated that they have resources or capacity to put up this amount of capital. Considering the current maintenance and repairs of existing houses is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions, the government will need to consider gifting the houses to organisations for free or at a much lower value. The consulted organisations have expressed their interest in exploring options of forming consortiums with iwi and other charities to handle the complex responsibility of managing social housing stock.
Another proposal from the government is around property development and the development of mixed developments which includes social houses interspersed with private houses sold on the open market. This gentrification of neighbours is thought to avoid creating “slum-like” social housing areas like Penrose was in the past and so that social housing tenants can aspire to become home owners. This is reminiscent of the historical housing policy to intersperse Māori and Pakeha households, so that Māori could “adjust themselves … to the pakeha way of living”.
Despite the inherent problems of the messages this policy sends to people there are also barriers as previously developers have struggled with the concept of building “mixed” developments that include a certain number of social houses, and selling the rest on the open market. With developers stating they were nervous about this, fearing that the Housing New Zealand neighbours would lower the market price for the other houses.
There are countries around the world that have implemented social housing strategies that look to be working. For example, in Spain, social housing is sold to eligible purchasers well below the real estate value. It is frequently well-designed, thanks to the Spanish government’s support of quality architecture and their investment in the built environment of their cities.
Currently New Zealand appears to be doing the opposite. State housing stock has either been sold or been allowed to run down. Instead of investing in the housing stock, money from Housing NZ is being redirected into rental subsidies, which may enable tenants to meet market rents. But the money goes directly into the pockets of landlords and keeps rental prices up at otherwise less affordable levels.
And it is beginning to appear that the government wants to absolve themselves of any social housing responsibility as quickly as possible. Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford mentioned that ,“The Salvation Army and the Methodist Mission don’t want to buy state houses, and the public hates Bill English’s plan to flog them off to property developers. So desperate is Bill English to offload state housing, it seems he is now thinking about a mass sell-off to tenants.”
So now we wait to learn what will unfold in the social housing arena that properly addresses our right to have a house to call home.
Where are we at now?
- Around 1800 new social housing units are on the cards for the wider Auckland region.
- The Ministry of Social development has published its purchasing and planning intentions. Under the proposals – Auckland City would get around 700 homes, Manukau will get 550, the North Shore 90, Waitakere 330, Papakura 90, and Franklin 30.
- Over 700 of the units are planned to be one bedroom as authorities work to address a shortage of supply of single bed dwellings
- Work is underway to make 300 extra social housing tenancies available in Auckland from Community Housing Providers who could demonstrate “new and innovative approaches to supporting tenants”.
- A Request For Proposal for these places is set to be released in early May, and legislation to enable increased flexibility the contracts might require is expected to be introduced to parliament in the coming weeks.