Tuifa’asisina Mea’ole Keil gave a submission to the select committee on the Government’s Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill. Mea’ole is the Labour Party’s Pacific Vice President and serves cleaners and caretakers in his day job with the Service and Food Workers Union. Have a listen. I thought what he had to say was a powerful plea on behalf of New Zealand’s forgotten people, and a reminder how important affordable housing, public transport, and a living wage are for them.
Archive for the ‘housing’ Category
Speech to Labour Party Auckland-Northland regional conference, Henderson
You’ve seen the image of Michael Joseph Savage carrying the furniture into the first state house at 12 Fife Lane, Miramar in 1937. It’s a big moment. Bob Semple, Walter Nash and John A Lee are all there. The Ministers have their sleeves rolled up. People are smiling. It’s an exciting moment.
The massive programme of state house building was one of the greatest achievements of the First Labour Government. They did it because they knew sub-standard housing lay at the root of so many social problems: illness, and the vulnerability of the poorest people to extortionate rents.
They did it because they were willing to use the power of the state to tackle problems that for decades the political establishment said were intractable, that such things must be left to the market to sort out, that in any case where would the money come from?
It is time once again to roll up our sleeves.
The quality of our housing, the shape of our cities, the lack of public transport, the cost of buying a house…these issues have once again become red hot issues. Labour’s willingness to pick up a hammer and actually build houses; our readiness to build the City Rail Link; these issues will have an impact on next year’s general election.
Third world diseases, associated with overcrowding and sub-standard housing, have come back to haunt New Zealand as poverty and inequality have risen. 900,000 homes have inadequate insulation. We know these diseases affect the children of the poor. The research shows there are too many kids dying unnecessary deaths from diseases like asthma, rheumatic fever, meningococcal disease. We know that most children growing up in poverty live in private rentals. That is a fact.
Which is why our Healthy Homes Guarantee will make it compulsory for rental homes to be properly insulated and have an efficient source of heating. We will amend the Residential Tenancies Act. End of story. National announced they will consider the development of a warrant of fitness they will trial in Housing NZ homes. They are going to trial this policy in the very houses – Housing NZ homes – that don’t need it. Houses that have all been retrofitted and insulated. But they won’t do a damn thing for the tenants of private rentals where hundreds of thousands of the poorest Kiwi families live in uninsulated damp and cold houses.
I woke today to hear Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse declare on Morning Report the housing accord between the Government and Auckland was in danger, and Auckland Council would not ratify the accord until certain matters had been sorted out.
Crikey, it didn’t take long for the centrepiece of the National Government’s Budget to start unravelling.
Was it poor political management? Did Ministers English and Smith really think Auckland Council would not be annoyed by the Goverment sneaking into the Bill extra powers to override the Council in direct contradiction of its agreement announced only a week earlier in a grip and grin session at Hobsonville involving Key, Smith and Brown?
Or was it all about getting a few hairy chested headlines the day after the Budget with the Government getting tough on housing affordability? And tough on Auckland Council as a useful proxy? Bill English told his post-Budget breakfast he wasn’t going to let 20 planners in the Auckland Council planning department wreck the economy!
In any case, the Government has just bought itself a couple of months of uncertainty and controversy over its flagship housing policy. Auckland Council, with Len Brown’s inexhaustible supply of good will, has shown itself to be remarkably patient and wily when it comes to dealing with the long list of mostly South Island ministers sent to deal with it: Gerry Brownlee, Amy Adams, Nick Smith, and now Bill English. (Except Bill English is from Karori.)
This is a high stakes tactic for the Government. If they provoke Auckland Council enough the Council could walk away from the Accord. The Government would then have to choose between backing off and losing face, or using its new powers to override Auckland Council and impose its own planning rules.
I suspect that would not go down well with Aucklanders who tend to view central government Wellington as a foreign country which should as much as possible be kept at bay. Imposing martial law on Auckland Council’s urban planning would be unpopular to say the least.
National are already offside with Aucklanders on transport (the most recent Herald poll had support for the City Rail Link at 63%). Gerry Brownlee’s impersonation of a human roadblock has left the city distinctly unamused. Even National’s traditional allies like the Employers and Manufacturers Association, and the Chamber of Commerce, have deserted it on this issue.
Over-riding Auckland Council’s planning laws would be up there with the suspension of Environment Canterbury and Gerry Brownlee’s post-quake wartime powers in the great pantheon of this National Government’s power hungry dealings with local councils.
National clearly thinks local government is a convenient punching bag. And I have no doubt councils around the country are watching this latest stoush with alarm. The housing accords bill sets up a legal framework that allows these powers to be used anywhere in the country.
It will be really interesting to watch how this slow motion punch up plays out. The super city reforms created something new and different. The Auckland Council, representing one-third of the country’s population and bigger than Fonterra and Telecom combined, is not like a council. It is more like an Australian state government.
And with mayoral and council elections in October, a stoush with the National Government may be just what Len Brown needs to guarantee re-election. (Maurice Williamson by the way has gone very quiet on his mayoral plans. I suspect there is an inverse relation between the amount of time the Government spends fighting Auckland Council and Maurice’s poll numbers.)
Given the constitutional supremacy of Parliament, the National Government could bludgeon Auckland Council into submission if it wanted to. But is that an outcome, with all the likely consequences, National really wants, given that in relatively short time it is going to need the votes of Aucklanders?
Labour voted for the Bill at first reading for two reasons: the housing affordability crisis demands a response and while it is inadequate, it is at least something. The accord cherry picks from the draft Unitary Plan. Opening up greenfields land and fast tracking consenting gives no guarantee that any affordable housing will be built.
We also felt that if the Government and Auckland Council spent six weeks hammering out an agreement on this issue then it at least deserved scrutiny at select committee. If Auckland Council decide not to ratify the accord that is going to make select committee hearings very interesting.
I think I might put up an amendment to the Bill giving Auckland Council the power to override the National Government if it can’t get what it wants and introduce a Capital Gains Tax in Auckland. Excluding the family home of course.
Two weeks ago Housing Minister Nick Smith accused Len Brown of killing the dreams of Aucklanders, and said the city’s planning rules had a stranglehold on the city. The potshots have continued for the past fortnight. Then today on Q&A, the day before he flies to Auckland to meet Len Brown and Penny Hulse, Smith comes over all olive branches and white doves: there is a lot of agreement, the Auckland Plan is now “balanced” and he and Len are “in the same paddock”.
So what gives? The Member for Nelson is a lion in Parliament but a mouse when he comes to Auckland. What has changed?
My theory: all the sound and fury from the Government is just political play acting designed to hide the fact that the Government has done nothing about housing affordability over the last four years. Nick Smith’s main job as Housing Minister is to run interference – blaming Auckland Council and framing the issue as being about the availability of greenfields land when even the Productivity Commission questions whether opening up large quantities of new land on the fringes will result in more affordable homes.
This is familiar stuff from Nick Smith. Remember the manufactured ACC crisis? Remember the bogus numbers on Council borrowing he used to justify his local government reform bill that had to be taken down from the Internal Affairs website?
But the risk here is that he is picking a fight with the country’s biggest city, as Mai Chen argued in the Herald. Aucklanders don’t take kindly to another South Island MP trying to run Auckland from his office in Wellington. Having Gerry set our transport priorities is bad enough.
Nick Smith flies to Auckland to meet with Len Brown and Penny Hulse tomorrow. I welcome his visit. He might learn something. But if he wants to play at being an Aucklander by having a say on our plan then he should at least walk the talk. I challenge him to skip the limo tomorrow and drive himself from the airport to the Town Hall in morning rush hour. Let’s see how he gets on.
Five weeks ago John Key appointed Paula Bennett as Associate Housing Minister, putting her alongside Nick Smith and Tariana Turia in a housing team to emphasise National’s commitment to tackling the crisis of unaffordable housing.
Problem is Ms Bennett still has no responsibilities – “to be advised” – according to the Government website. She doesn’t even have ‘general duties in the portfolio’ as others have.
She has no housing staff in her office and has been unable to answer written questions about her priorities. In fact a written question about her goals as Associate Minister of Housing was referred to Housing Minister Nick Smith’s office and then back to Bennett, and then back to Smith again.
Smith claimed in a written answer he has “formal and informal” meetings with Bennett on housing issues. It’s hard to imagine these will be much use if Bennett doesn’t know what she is doing!
National’s response to the housing affordablity crisis is all about creating the appearance of activity: a three member housing team, blaming Councils, threatening to tinker with the RMA. Meanwhile with Kiwibuild, Labour has a robust, achievable plan that will get 100,000 Kiwi families into their own homes over the next 10 years.
70 Housing New Zealand staff made redundant in April have good reason to feel let down as National’s drive for efficiency has seen them almost immediately replaced with call centre staff.
Housing New Zealand won’t be the last government department to fall victim to National’s short-sighted drive for efficiencies.
Yesterday Phil Twyford and I spent the day meeting with key people involved in housing and urban development in Auckland. I recommend Phil Heatley the Minister of ‘no Housing ‘ does the same. He might learn something.
Auckland needs to house another million people over the next 30 years requiring an extra 400,000 dwellings. That is an impossible task without a long term strategy and total commitment from government, local government and both the private and community sectors.
The Auckland Council has drawn up a draft Auckland Plan looking forward 30 years. It emphasises a commitment to a quality compact Auckland region. Feedback from Aucklanders has made it clear they want a bold visionary strategy. They also want the impact of development on the heritage and character of the region to be considered. And they want the ‘housing crisis’ addressed!
Auckland Council with all the good will in the world won’t achieve their plan on their own. Around 13,000 new houses a year need to be built every year for the next 30 years. That is a quantum leap from where we are now. In 1992 around 4,800 houses were being built a year. The number peaked at 12,000 between 2001 and 2005. In the latest figures the number has plunged to just over 2,000. (more…)
We need good urban development in Auckland. The city is crying out for urban renewal, more affordable healthy homes, public transport, you name it.
But in Glen Innes where Housing NZ is redeveloping 156 of their properties the Government is breaking every rule in the book, and giving urban renewal a bad name.
At a lively public meeting in GI last night, three hapless National backbenchers (the new member for Tamaki Simon O’Connor, list member Alfred Ngaro who was a community worker in the area, and neighbouring MP Sam Lotu-Iiga) got an old fashioned bollocking from a crowd of around 300 including many Housing NZ tenants facing eviction.
At least they turned up, which is more than can be said for Housing Minister Phil Heatley.
Under his watch, National has reneged on commitments made by the Labour Government when it started the project. They have walked away from the pledge that residents would have the right to move back into the community after the redevelopment. They have broken the promise the number of Housing NZ properties would be increased. And they dropped the community development process that was part of the original design.
Housing NZ reports the current 156 properties will be redeveloped to generate 260 new properties. Only 78 will be owned by Housing NZ. Another 39 “affordable” properties will possibly be managed by community agencies although I understand all expressions of interest were recently rejected and it is uncertain what will happen to them now. The remainder will all be sold to the highest bidders.
No wonder the dozens of GI residents who have received eviction notices were enraged at last night’s meeting and howled down O’Connor, Ngaro and Lotu-Iiga down as sell outs.
It is a disgrace what is happening in GI. National’s perverted version of urban renewal is moving poor people out, and shipping the rich in, as if low income Kiwis should not be allowed a sea view. Just as John Key stripped the state housing out of the new development in Hobsonville in his electorate.
The people of Glen Innes deserve our support.
I felt a real sense of sadness hearing the news of the death of Ben Hana, known to most Wellingtonians, and others as Blanket Man. Like many Wellingtonians I had a few conversations with Ben over the years. Early on in Cuba Mall when he used to talk a lot more, and more latterly when he enjoyed the sunshine in Courtenay Place, with less to say, but still a nod of acknowledgement.
Ben was a polarising person. For many he was an iconic figure, part of the unique and quirky Wellington. A number of people had close relationships with him, and supported him with gifts and food. The gift of an IPod a few years ago saw him rocking out even more in his own universe. For others how he looked and acted was affronting and challenging and they felt threatened by him.
He was the face of homelessness in Wellington. It is true to say that he shunned the idea of moving off the streets in recent years, and indeed of taking on much in the way of formalised help. He was beyond that, and wanted none of it. But this is a misleading view of the experience of the homeless. For most of the homeless in Wellington it is not such a choice, and indeed for Ben earlier in his life as things went wrong, and he became unwell mentally, and his addictions developed I am sure he would have liked and benefited from some more support and somewhere to call home.
Homelessness is not necessarily about sleeping on the streets, its about not having a stable place to live, to be your base. It is often associated with mental illness and addiction, and there is far too much of it in our city. A number of organisations, especially the Downtown Community Ministry do a great job supporting those who are homeless, but we are falling short.
We have a real shortage of emergency accomodation, affordable accomodation and accomodation for those with mental illness. The different agencies involved are getting better at working together to find solutions, but still need to be more coordinated and flexible if we are to truly address these issues. Its not just government either, the community has a responsibility too. Many private landlords will not take on those who have a history of mental illness. I will be continuing to advocate and organise on these issues in Wellington. This is a nationwide issue though, and I believe it merits a select committee inquiry, as Labour has pushed for in recent years.
For me the best memorial for Ben would be that we as a city and community come together to say that we will look after and look out for all the residents of the city. We will make it a priority to deal with homelessness and the issues that lie behind it. We will respect those who are homeless for who they are, and work with them to give them real choices that will address the issues that cause their struggles and put them back in charge of their own lives. RIP Ben.
Nats and their mouthpieces are upset. Hooton raving, whale lost direction and beached and even the penguin making an idiot of himself.
It is an absolute lie to say National is reviewing all state house tenancies. The policy clearly says only *new* tenancies will be placed on periodic review.
I’m going to accept Heatley’s word. He is the Minister after all. From Q + A.
PHIL Well, yes, and the second step. So the first step is for any new tenant from the 1st of July this year. After the election if we’re re-elected, we’re going to be rolling this out for current tenants. .
The proposal to abandon gift duty is effectively another tax cut for some of NZs wealthiest families. It is yet another step to an unequal society where wealth is accumulating in fewer hands. Why does this offend me? Because a tax system should be fair, and neither aid in tax avoidance by those who can and should pay a fair share of taxes, nor aid in the undue concentration of wealth (and home ownership) based on accident of birth.
The government only collects $2m pa in gift duty and yet estimates NZers currently spend $70m pa on compliance costs. Ask yourself why they fork out that $70m pa? They don’t have to. They don’t think they are throwing that money away. So what benefits do they get by doing so?
There are a number. Some do it to protect assets. Politicians at risk of being sued for defamation often put their family house in a separate legal entity so that if they get sued their family does not end up on the street. Entrepreneurs do similar in case they get cleaned out in their risky ventures. In both instances this is legal and proper, and can be done effectively under current rules, which allow a couple to gift 27k each = 54k pa free of any gift duty.
But how the wealthiest benefit is via no control on transfers of wealth between the different members of their family, and to other legal entities which they control which may have tax losses they can utilise. In such cases it is not about protecting assets but about avoiding taxation.
Instead of tax being paid at the rate of 33 cents, they transfer assets to spouses and children who pay tax on the income from those assets at the rate of 10.5 cents and 17 cents in the dollar.
So without a limit on gifts free of gift duty, you will see more income tax avoidance.
The justification that gift duty should be dropped because those using current rules, up to the current limit of 54k pa, incur compliance costs is ludicrous. It is not forced upon them, and they choose to do so because of the various advantages they perceive.
I find it stupid logic to reward those already using current rules to their advantage by dropping those rules completely so they can do it more.
Having rejected income splitting for tax purposes because it is unfair, National is effectively allowing an increase in income splitting for those who are wealthiest. You still can’t do it if you are a wage worker on the minimum wage, but you will be able to split your income by transferring valuable income producing assets if you are wealthy.
Once again, National show their true colours. The rich get richer and the rest struggle to make ends meet. We have a government who, having just increased the after tax income gap between high and low paid workers, is now aiding asset inequality to grow further.
No wonder younger voters are increasingly frustrated. They see that NZ is increasingly being run in the interests of the few. As the few achieve ever larger shares of income and wealth, home ownership rates continue to drop. Many people can no longer afford to own their own home, but those lucky to be born into already wealthy families get yet another lift up from this government.
Any pretence by National that they are aspirational for all New Zealanders should be seen as just that.
Tax policy should strive to achieve fair outcomes for all New Zealanders. Once again, National’s tax policy fails this test.
As of tomorrow Labour’s Shared Equity pilot will end and the Government has made it clear they will not be providing any funding for it to continue. This is despite Phil Heatley promising before the election that they would keep it at least until their Gateway scheme becomes available. The Gateway scheme has been missing in action since the election (and received no funding in the Budget) although we’re promised that some sections will be made available “soon”.
There is no doubt that the uptake of shared equity during the pilot was low. I’m not questioning that at all. But when Housing New Zealand was asked why this was, Senior Communications Adviser Michelle Williams revealed that Housing New Zealand was told to stop promoting the scheme after the 2008 election. Heatley confirmed this in the House today saying he didnt want to waste money on “advertising”.
The shared equity pilot started in July 2008. This means for twenty of the twenty-four months that the pilot was operating it wasn’t being promoted. Heatley says he just wanted to save money, but why waste money carrying out a pilot, at the end of which you have no idea whether the low uptake is due to it not working, the recession, or simply the fact that no one knows it exists.
Housing New Zealand are quite clear on why the uptake was so low saying that “Initial forecasting for this product suggested funding would be required for approximately 700 loans over the two-year pilot phase. This has not been the case due to a change of government and subsequently change in focus. Coupled with no promotion and low awareness of product, demand has been very low.”
So not because it doesn’t work. Not because it has no potential in the future. Because people don’t know it exists. What a waste of time and money.
The jigsaw pireces of the Budget are starting to click in the public mind if recent polls are any indication. In the last week :
- The IMF described NZ’s savings gap and net international indebtedness as “among the largest of any advanced nation”
- Analysis shows a $9.2bn additional fiscal hole in the Budget by 2023 arising from the tax changes
- Budget documents show expenditure as a % of GDP falling from 33% to 28%
- Bill English floats Kiwibank sale as one example of a number of SOEs ripe for partial privatisation.
In other words: give away taxes up front (very largely to their mates); run an out year deficit (deliberately); compress spending (as ‘prudence ” then demands); and flog off what is left of the family silver to fill the remaining gap (dressed up as mum and dad savings products, of course).
What does all this mean for the average Kiwi?
- despite the govt spin, they are worse off for the next four years at least due to the toxic cocktail of GST, inflation, other govt charges and taxes, and slow wage growth;
- public services like Heatlh and Early Childhood Education will be slashed as new spending lags inflation ($300m short in Health) or deliberate policy changes bite;
- the outlook for public services gets dramatically worse as the National Party tries to resize the state to 28% of GDP – although they won’t want to talk much about that before the election;
- the underlying economic problems reamin unresolved and get more intractable over time. There is no credible plan for growth and jobs.
Moral of story: do NOT let National get a second term Stop the malign juggernaut before it does irrepairable damage.
Cuts to early childhood education could have one of the big impacts to our economy as thousands of parents weigh up whether they can afford to have have both parents working.
I’ve been told by Dunedin ECE centres that parents of children under three will be hard hit by the Government’s Budget and face an increase of $42.50 per child per week.
I was approached by ECE providers a few weeks ago concerned about the imminent budget cuts. Today Labour will hold a community meeting to discuss the cuts attended by Dunedin’s Labour MPs and our Early Childhood Education spokesperson Sue Moroney.
The Budget cuts will hit working families who rely on quality childcare. The impact will be enormous throughout the economy as parents weigh up whether they can afford to have their children in childcare.
These fee increases will more than eat up any tax cut received by parents. On top of that they will face increases in GST, ACC and increased inflation.
In Dunedin, there are more than 8000 children enrolled in ECE services. Parents with children aged three and four will also be hit as fees go up across the board and centres are forced to employ lesser qualified staff to remain viable.
We have estimated that when inflation and a rise in early childhood education (ECE) fees are taken into account, the average family, with 2 children will be at least $55 a week worse off.
And that’s just one issue. Currently ECE centres are encouraged to have 100 per cent registered teachers, but from early next year, the funding rate for registered teachers will be lowered and will be given only for up to 80 per cent of a provider’s registered teachers.
The result is there will be little incentive for providers to have more than 80 per cent registered teachers.
Just before the Budget was announced, both Anne Tolley and John Key attended the NEiTA teaching excellence awards in Parliament.
Both Sue Moroney and I attended that ceremony alongside St Clair ECE teacher Karen Brown (from my electorate) who won an excellence award.
It’s ironic that the PM and Minister of Education attended a ceremony that celebrated excellence in teaching, an hour before they announced cuts which would compromise excellent teaching.
Public meeting: 10am Mornington Presbyterian Church