Housing accessibility and human rights

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by NIKKI STOKES

This article will appear in Fightback’s upcoming September issue on Accessibility. To support our work, consider subscribing to our e-publication ($NZ20 annually) or print magazine ($NZ60 annually). You can subscribe with PayPal or credit card here.

When our landlord issued a 90 day notice of intent to take back occupation of the home my young family had been renting for two years, I did what most people in my generation have had to do at some point; I spent hours of my time desperately scouring real estate websites, publications and new paper listings in hopes of finding another home to rent at a time when demand significantly outstrips supply.

Unlike the majority of hopeful tenants, however, I dismissed most of the available properties without forwarding an application. Instead I went into the Ministry of Social Development and applied for social housing in hope they could make up for the lack of private rental houses that would be even minimally accessible to my mobility impaired daughter.

I was advised to continue looking for private housing and to keep my daughter’s disability a secret to prevent any discomfort from potential landlords. The wait time for social housing would be months, perhaps years, and emergency housing providers would unlikely be able or willing to accommodate a family with our requirements.

By luck we were able to secure a private rental and with some hefty funding for a temporary ramp, hoist system and fancy shower chair, the house was made minimally accessible to her basic care needs.

Housing and erasure

While stories like this are seldom heard in the well chewed-over discussions on housing challenges and solutions, they are hardly isolated.

In October 2017 the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing presented a report on the right to adequate housing for persons with disabilities1. The report highlights the fact that globally, the right to adequate housing remains beyond reach for most persons with disability and that legislation and policy have generally ignored the need for action to protect the right to housing for disabled people.

For people with disabilities, being unable to access suitable and secure housing compromises the choices available to them within their communities. If housing cannot be secured, a person may be forced into living with family members beyond a time period that they feel is appropriate. If housing is not suitably accessible, or cannot be reasonably modified to enable independence, a person may find themselves reliant on disability support workers. If housing is not located convenient to community facilities, support, employment or reliable and accessible public transport, a person with disabilities may find themselves isolated and struggling to participate fully in society.This creates vulnerability as disabled people are forced into situations where they cannot fully exercise their human rights. and reinforces harmful narratives of the burden of disability on society.

In such a society disabled people are actively erased. While 2013 census data estimated that a total of 1.1 million people, or 24% of New Zealanders were disabled it is estimated that only 2% of our housing stock is accessible. As the United Nations report says: “Most housing and development is designed as if persons with disabilities do not exist, will not live there or deserve no consideration”.

While numerous organisations and consumer groups representing various disabled groups have highlighted the urgent need for minimum accessibility standards and action for access to adequate housing, little meaningful action has occured at Government level. Housing accessibility is protected in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities2, to which New Zealand is a signatory. It is therefore fundamental to our responsibilities to Disabled People that any future policy or initiatives intended to address housing be centred around ensuring a minimum level of accessibility.

Is KiwiBuild accessible?

The term “universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life3. When comparing the cost of incorporating Universal Design into new builds against the cost of retrofitting those same builds, it soon becomes clear that failure to ensure accessibility in housing policy and initiatives is not only creating undue hardship to to persons with disability, but it is a poor economic choice in the longterm. According to the research, testing and consulting organisation BRANZ (www.branz.co.nz), building using concepts of Universal Design would add little additional cost (around $3,000 per dwelling). Yet retrofitting a building that has not been built to an accessible standard may well cost over $20,000.

The much-lauded KiwiBuild programme has made no assurances to or carried out consultation with any of the organisations representing disabled people. This seems at best counter productive to the purpose of state funded housing projects, and at worst a significant breach of Human Rights. A society that intends to be inclusive must begin with fully accessible communities, including access to housing for disabled people, and also “visitablity” – the ability to access the homes of friends, family and community members to ensure full and uncompromised participation in society.

The costs of not building new homes or carrying out renovations to a minimum standard of accessibility are significant, and in New Zealand that cost falls upon our already very stretched Health system. Funding for modifications is difficult and time-consuming to access, has strict limits that place financial burdens on disabled people and their families, and is not accessible to people who are unable to secure stable long term accommodation.

Recently Phil Twyford, the Minister championing the Kiwibuild programme was invited to speak at the Universal Design Conference of 2018. While his speech conveyed his recognition of the challenges of access to housing to that disabled people face and a need to ensure a diversity of housing stock to meet a diversity of need and family structure, it is concerning that no firm commitment has been made to ensure that a minimum standard of accessibility will be applied to the Kiwibuild programme.

Community connections

It was also announced in September this year that a new social housing development has been planned for Otara, incorporating features to meet the needs of disabled tenants. While 71 apartments have been planned for the development, only seven ground level apartments have been specifically planned to accommodate mobility impaired individuals. While there are many disabilities and needs beyond mobility impairment, this does not reflect that 14% of New Zealanders (over half of the disability community) have a mobility impairment.

Moreover, for people with disability, the ability to maintain connections with their communities and supports are vital. Creating separate communities for disabled people to exist in, rather than ensuring all housing provides the ability to accommodate all disabilities, forces people with disabilities to be cut off from their supports, their communities and to remain invisible.

As a carer the strain of inadequate housing cannot be understated. It has created an ongoing cycle of instability and crisis for our family. The struggle to find adequate housing in our local community has forced us to sever ties with our support networks, deal with transfer and inconsistency of service provision and case management, feel frequently vulnerable and exposed having unfamiliar care staff coming into our home, and struggle to find inclusive social situations. The lack of access to fully accessible housing or to state funded modifications has required that my physical safety and the safety of my child be compromised in the process of providing basic care.

Leaving disabled people vulnerable and without choices, and placing additional strain on their families and carers by failing to ensure adequate housing, continues to result in terrible human rights abuses for people with disabilities. We have a responsibility and the capability to ensure that adequate and secure housing is an accessible right for all.

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Sprawl still the plan in post-quake Christchurch

sprawl chch

Source: Stuff.

Byron Clark is an activist based in Ōtautahi / Christchurch.

This article was written for Fightback’s magazine issue on Urban Revolution and the Right to the City. To susbcribe to our publications, click here.

Six years on from the earthquake that levelled much of the city, the population of Christchurch has almost returned to pre-quake levels. As with everywhere in New Zealand, house prices are up, but rents have fallen slightly from the high point of the city’s accommodation crisis.

Construction is now more common than destruction. In fact, much of the recent population growth has been driven by skilled tradespeople moving to Christchurch from overseas and elsewhere in New Zealand to participate in the rebuild.

The story of Greater Christchurch is different, however. When people moved out of the city following the quakes, many didn’t move very far. While Christchurch’s population declined, the surrounding districts of Waimakariri and Selwyn swelled. These continue to be popular destinations for people searching for relatively cheaper homes than those offered in the city.

In the past year, the population of the Waimakariri District grew 3.7 per cent, and that of Selwyn District 6.6 per cent. This compares to 1.9% for Christchurch City. Even before the earthquake, almost half the population from these districts either side of the city commuted to work in Christchurch. The northern motorway into Christchurch now sees 50,000 cars a day – 10,000 more than before the earthquakes.

Waimakariri is now the South Island’s third largest population centre, bigger than Nelson and Invercargill. However, the regional council (Environment Canterbury, aka ECan) has been ineffectual at providing transport options. In 2014 commuter rail was ruled out as the $10 million price tag was seen as too expensive. Yet currently, $900 million worth of motorway projects are happening around Christchurch.

Despite some bus priority lanes in the northern suburb of Belfast, public transport commuting from North Canterbury is no quicker than travelling in a private motor vehicle. Buses are an option mainly used by those without the option of a car.

Meanwhile, the new commuter town of Pegasus, promoted as a place where one could “live where you play”, was a spectacular flop. The development shifted hands from one property developer to another while those who bought homes there never got the promised amenities such as a supermarket – let alone the yacht club and equestrian centre that were promoted in advertising for the town.

Now a new development, Ravenswood, is about to begin construction. Larger but less ambitious than Pegasus, artists’ conceptions of Ravenswood depict – refreshingly honestly – enormous car parks surrounding the buildings in the commercial area. Anchor tenants have already been found: a supermarket, a petrol station and a fast food outlet. Ravenswood in its current conception depicts an anachronistic model of suburban living that is not sustainable in the twenty-first century.

In the south-west of the city, while commuting times might be shorter (thanks in part to an already completed motorway project) the same suburban story is told. Writing in The Press, Philip Matthews describes the new subdivisions of former farmland:

“Wigram Skies and other new suburbs tell you that the near future will still be car based. These are not pedestrian suburbs. You rarely see anyone walking. The monotony of housing is broken by occasional playgrounds and childcare centres but there are no corner stores and few community facilities. No churches. Shopping is the communal activity.”

The rebuild of the central city has looked more positive. With a new bus station and cycle lanes separated from the roads, Christchurch is starting to look like a modern city should. However, most central city apartment complexes and town houses have been priced out of reach for all but the wealthy, with some priced as high as $1.5 million.

The boarding houses and bedsits that once provided shelter to the inner-city poor are gone, and social housing hasn’t filled the gap. The City Council had 2649 council homes for rent at the start of September 2010, but only 2292 available for rent as of 11th December 2016, according to figures from an Official Information Act request obtained by the State Housing Action Network. Meanwhile, central government plans to sell 2,500 state houses in the city.

We need to stand for Niki, because she is standing up for you

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Source: Stuff.

Vanessa Cole is a member of the Tāmaki Housing Action Group.

This article will be published in Fightback’s magazine on Urban Revolution and the Right to City. To subscribe, click here.

Elderly tenant Ioela ‘Niki’ Rauti has made headlines for refusing to be moved from her house on Taniwha Street, Glen Innes. While she has received support from many people, the backlash from some commentators have tried to derail her struggle by framing her as selfish for holding on to a three-bedroom home during a housing crisis. Niki’s struggle is not an individual struggle, but a struggle of people against the processes of capital accumulation and its manifestation in the state-led gentrification of Tāmaki.

In The New Zealand Experiment, Jane Kelsey shows New Zealand’s historical habit of blindly following economic ideas that had never been trialled elsewhere in the world. The Tāmaki experiment is much the same – adopting urban planning and privatisation which have failed internationally. The transfer of 2,800 state houses in Tāmaki (Panmure, Point England and Glen Innes) to the Tāmaki Redevelopment Company (TRC) is privatisation by stealth. The insidious language used by the TRC frames this transfer as urban ‘regeneration’ – a grand project which will see the building of more homes and the revitalising of a community which embodies the problems associated with the geographical concentration of poverty.

The experiment in Tāmaki is a well-orchestrated campaign. The reality of these policies, without the spin, is mass privatisation of state housing, the displacement of the poor through state-led gentrification processes, and destruction of working class communities by private developers into a desirable and attractive landscape for an incoming middle-class. If Tāmaki was the experiment for the rest of Auckland, and for the rest of New Zealand, then it is a failed experiment. While the redevelopment has received public attention and criticism, the discourses and myths produced by the Government are powerful in justifying and dampen the violence of dispossession.

Paula Bennett promised that freeing up public land by removing state homes in Tāmaki and building more houses will help alleviate the exorbitant increases in house prices and build more houses for those in need. Yes, more houses have been built, but providing public land to private developers has led to exploding unaffordability. The median land values in Glen Innes, one of the first areas to be redeveloped, have increased from $400,000 to nearly 1 million since the redevelopment begun in 2012. The housing market in Tāmaki demonstrates that increasing supply and density of housing does not necessitate affordability. One reasons is that our existing affordable housing (state housing) is being replaced by a large amount of private housing, and property developers are not interested in the reduced profits of “affordability.” State housing once functioned to stabilise the housing market in particular areas, meaning that surrounding rental properties were cheaper. Very few people will be able to rent an affordable house in Tāmaki once this project is completed, particularly if landlords continue to capitalise on the increasing land values in the area.

As for the argument that “mixed-tenure communities” will provide better access to resources for the poor and solve the social problems facing unevenly developed communities. Most of the international research suggests that this new urban planning logic does the complete opposite. The logic of social mixing is built on classist ideas of middle-class neighbours teaching the poor how to behave and providing aspiration for mobility. This is a logic which ignores the economic processes which occur when capital moves into low-income communities, processes which lead to displacement and social cleansing.

Developers in Tāmaki have to build a certain proportion of social and affordable houses as part of the deal of buying and accessing cheap public land. Their main goal, however, is to profit from speculating on land value increases. While the TRC have promised tenants that they can remain in the area, this was a reluctant concession following years of community resistance, and does not account for other forms of eviction through the Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) which begun in 2013.

The establishment of a social housing market by means of transferring state housing to Community Housing Providers (CHPs) is occurring under the rhetoric of efficiency. Tāmaki Regeneration, a company set up to regenerate and redevelop Tāmaki, is now one of these new ‘social’ landlords, given 2,800 households to manage. As part of the company Tāmaki Housing Limited Partnership manage the tenancies, and Tāmaki Regeneration Limited are in charge of redevelopment. The Government will argue that this is not privatisation as the TRC is currently owned by the New Zealand Government (29.5% Bill English, 29.5% Nick Smith) and Auckland Council (41%). The TRC, however, was set up in the interim period to manage the properties and the tenancies. Soon, however, the tenancies will be transferred to various different social housing providers and the land will eventually be sold to developers and investors to build the mixed tenure housing.

If we look to the UK, this process of transferring management of public housing stock to private organisations lead in many cases to privatisation. Without sufficient subsidies to support management of properties, private developers are the only organisations that can withstand the costs. The Salvation Army have already backed down from taking on state housing stock for this very reason. The most concerning issue here is the foreshadowing of large scale privatisation in which the private market is held as the sole supplier of the basic human right to housing.

While we are promised to reap the benefits and efficiencies of privatisation, history has shown that the private market does not provide affordable and secure housing for the working class and unemployed. Housing is a right, and an essential material need. To sell it off to private developers or transfer it to private housing providers is to commodify something that should be for living. When Niki is standing up against the redevelopment of her home, she is standing up against the economic processes by which capital dispossesses the poor for the profit of the rich. We need to resist the narratives of the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor, and fight for the right of all to affordable, secure and public housing. We need to unite to dispel the myths of regeneration and to fight the historical and continual dispossession of people by capital. We need to stand with Niki, because she is standing for you.

The housing crisis and the scapegoating of “foreigners”

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By Ian Anderson, student (expanded from a short piece published in Salient Magazine, itself originally adapted from an MA thesis on ‘publics’ and ‘nonpublics’ in Aotearoa/New Zealand).

The housing crisis is a key site of struggle over inequality in Aotearoa/New Zealand. As many increasingly note, an increasing proportion of people do not own the homes they live in. Yet both of the major parties obscure the causes of the housing crisis, perhaps to keep investors and privileged voters onside (particularly older Pakeha, more likely than other groups to vote).

In Aotearoa/NZ, the housing bubble has yet to burst at the time of writing. House prices in Auckland quadrupled from 1991-2014, and wages have not kept up. The growth in exchange value (price) already undermines the use value of housing (a place to live); decreasing numbers of people can afford housing. Recent years have seen a drop in homeownership to just below 50% of the adult population. The same period has seen a 25% spike in homelessness.

National barely acknowledges the housing crisis. As of late August 2016, Key has finally conceded the existence of a housing crisis after years of pressure. However, Key evaded responsibility for the crisis, blaming the previous Labour government.

Meanwhile Labour, attempting to court more of a working-class or conscientious audience, acknowledge the housing crisis while obscuring its cause. This was most shockingly underlined by Labour’s controversial ‘Chinese surnames’ intervention (where Labour released a list of home buyers with ‘Chinese surnames’), failing to distinguish between migrant labour and international capital. As local hip hop artist David Dallas argues, in his recent track ‘Don’t Rate That’:
They buying everything that ain’t taxed
Blame it on the Chinese
Say it’s foreign buyers
But if a Brit buys up you don’t bat an eyelid
Fuckin’ wilin’
Could be third generation migrants
But we out here checking up on last names
What’s next gonna check what shape their eyes is
To tell the truth it probably wouldn’t be surprising

Growing social and economic contradictions among the people; between property owner and vagrant, mortgagee and lender, landlord and tenant; are safely displaced onto a nonpublic, an ‘Other’, defined through racial rather than economic characteristics. In fact, although the government does not collect comprehensive stats on ownership of housing, data from Land Information New Zealand indicates that only 3% of buyers and sellers are foreign tax residents

More broadly, content analysis of Labour Party press releases reveals that they never identify ‘investors’, ‘speculators’, ‘bankers’ per se as a negative influence; rather, they only couple these sorts of terms with terms such as ‘Australian’ or ‘foreign’. Considering business interests fund both major parties, and generally act as a coercive influence (‘business confidence’ is a key term in electoral commentary), Labour is apparently unwilling to alienate local business.

According to Roy Morgan polls, New Zealanders’ main concern is ‘inequality’. However, content analysis reveals that the two major parties appeal to ‘New Zealanders’ as their main constituency, a nationally rather than economically defined public. Examining opposite terms to New Zealander, National is the most likely party to use the term ‘international’, while Labour is the most likely party to use the term ‘foreigner’. Whereas National seeks to appeal to local and international investors, Labour scapegoats foreigners rather than challenging capital per se.

Recent international trends have seen the emergence of new populist movements opposing neoliberalism. These include left-reformist electoral campaigns; Syriza’s election in Greece, Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the US and Jeremy Corbyn’s successful leadership bid in UK Labour. Conversely, right-wing populist campaigns have found new electoral currency; UKIP’s Brexit campaign in the UK, Trump’s campaign in the US. Unfortunately, NZ Labour gives expression to this international right-wing populist trend. A major left-wing alternative has yet to emerge.

The housing crisis presents a challenge that both major parties are apparently unwilling to address. Marxist geographer David Harvey notes in Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism that many middle-class ‘consumers’ gain (precarious) wealth from housing bubbles, not only super-rich investors: “housing asset values have become important political objectives for larger and larger segments of the population and a major political issue because the exchange value for consumers is as important as the exchange value earned by producers”. Herein lies the contradiction for major parties; how to address the housing crisis without alienating voters who benefit from the boom. New Zealanders are the main owners of New Zealand housing, and many benefit from driving up prices (landlords, for example).

The housing crisis is driven by the internal contradictions of capitalism, both local and international. As David Harvey argues, the ‘exchange value’ of housing undermines the ‘use value’. As housing is a speculative commodity – usually purchased through debt – property bubbles are a regular feature of capitalism. As Sue Bradford argued in a recent CounterFutures article on the fight-back in housing, xenophobia “can provide a ‘quick hit’ for popular support, but comes at the expense of promulgating an understanding of the deeper structural dynamics at play”. Those of us seeking to address the housing crisis must distance ourselves from the ‘quick hits’ of poll-chasing politics and develop a systemic analysis which can aid a long-term strategy. Neither major party will address the roots of the crisis. The existing movements for public housing and renters’ rights (see Renters United) offer more of a basis for this challenge.

We need a combined, independent social movement demanding redistribution of land to tangata whenua and the general public, an expansion of high-quality urban public housing; a clamp-down on all speculation and profiteering (whether local or international); and prioritisation of the use value of housing.

Housing: ‘Aww, poor thing’ – A victory for the loudest Aucklanders in the room

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Fightback supports the universal right to housing, including expansion of high-density, high-quality public housing, and strict price controls on privately owned houses. This article by Alex Johnston, reprinted from The Spinoff, makes a case for high-density urban housing in Auckland.

Yesterday the democratic deficit present in Auckland’s local body politics was well and truly evident. In a room of 150 middle-aged, middle-class property owners, my colleague Flora Apulu and I presented to the Auckland Council governing body on behalf of the Youth Advisory Panel.

You wouldn’t think it looking at the demographics of those present, but we were the voice of the roughly half a million Aucklanders under the age of 24. It was a voice that we on the Panel believe has been sidelined in the Unitary Plan debate about how Auckland provides more housing both now and in the future.

We talked about the urgent need to provide more housing choices so that young people can have places to live that are affordable, connected to good transport and with access to employment, study and opportunity.

When Flora, justifiably nervous with the responsibility and the tense atmosphere in the room, pointed out that we were the youngest people present by a lot, and that she felt the “weight of our generation” on her shoulders, she was met with heckles of “poor thing” and “aww” from the crowd. I would like to believe that some of that was genuine sympathy and not sarcasm or condescension. However the vociferous response we got through the rest of our presentation – when mentioning the struggles young people face with housing and conveying the impression that property owners are pulling the ladder up behind them – would suggest otherwise.

The disappointing thing about the controversy surrounding late changes to Council’s submission on the zoning plans was that (some) property owners’ voices were given greater weight than those already shut out from the housing market. There were plenty of submissions that called for broad intensification across the city or even in specific suburbs, which were reflected in the zoning changes. But these were outweighed by the fact that some who found the zone of their own property changed in order to meet the need of the entire city hadn’t been directly consulted on.

The outcome of the meeting left the Council removing the zoning changes from their own submission on the Unitary Plan, and still leaving a deficit of around 200,000 houses over the next 30 years.This is something that can hopefully be addressed now that the Unitary Plan sits with an Independent Hearings Panel, who will hear the evidence from all sides and try to meet the requirements of our city’s burgeoning population.

For me, addressing the housing crisis in Auckland doesn’t need to be something that causes generational conflict. But the treatment of real issues that young people face when it comes to housing, and our attempt to convey that and present a solution while being shouted down, reveals a broader narrative of resistance to change that lies beneath the complaints about lack of process.

This was interestingly brought to attention by a tweet by mayoral candidate Victoria Crone following our presentation to the Council:

Respectfully, it is my view that our treatment by the audience showed that many do not understand youth issues, since they were not willing to listen to what we had to say. As Crone acknowledged later, we weren’t even Generation Zero – their presentation was to come later.

Young people have had less ability to organise and submit around the Unitary Plan – our time is focused on getting by week by week. Indeed, turning up to that meeting required both Flora and I to take time off work. Thinking 10 years ahead about what type of zone might be better so that we can still live in Auckland when we move out of our parents’ houses takes a lot of forethought, time and resources.

But it’s not just our voice that needs to be given more weight. It is the voice of renters who make up half of Auckland’s population, of the working poor, who are being pushed into further and further away suburbs, of elderly who need housing options to stay in their communities when downsizing.

The Unitary Plan affects all Aucklanders, and our concerns need to be taken seriously, but yesterday, it was the loudest voice in the room that won.

Hot bedding, sex-for-rent and $170 bunks: The rental crisis in Auckland

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by Fiona O’Callaghan

Just over a year ago, I was living in a garage. It was renovated to the extent that it had been carpeted and the interior walls gyprocked (but not painted) and the entrance filled with a ranchslider. I had to go up to the main house if I wanted to use the toilet, shower or cook anything beyond toasting or microwaving. I was paying $180 per week. The garage had been divided into two “flats” with another tenant paying the same amount for the other one. There was a couple living in the main house paying $250 per week, and another tenant in a portable cabin paying $180 as well.

I was there for two years, then two days after Christmas received an email from the landlord, giving me two weeks’ notice. She and her husband had been living in one of their other properties, and had decided to sell up and move back to the house. She said she wanted to turn my part of the garage into a home office. When I told her that legally she had to give 60 days’ notice (confirmed by the Tenancy Advice line) I received a phone call and a tirade of abuse. She claimed that the property was classed as a “boarding house” and therefore she could give 48 hours’ notice if she wished. She eventually agreed to give me three weeks to find somewhere else. Fortunately, I was able to find a room in a shared house which was not only cheaper, but I could use the kitchen and bathroom without having to brave the weather.

A few weeks after I moved out, the room was advertised on Trade Me as a “renovated” garage (i.e. it had been painted inside and the carpet upgraded) for $200 per week.

According to Trade Me Property, in the 5 years from December 2010 to December 2015, rents in Auckland increased by 26.9 per cent. The average rental for an apartment at December 2015 was $450 per week, $400 for a 1-2 bedroom house, $550 for a 3-4 bedroom house. At the same time, the increasing property prices have put home ownership out of reach of the majority of working people, increasing pressure on the rental market. Particularly hard hit are those on low incomes, particularly students, beneficiaries or sole parents.

The New Zealand Bureau of Statistics defines homelessness as “Living situations where people with no other options to acquire safe and secure housing: are without shelter, in temporary accommodation, sharing accommodation with a household or living in uninhabitable housing.” An Auckland Council study in 2014 estimated around 15,000 people in the greater Auckland area were “severely housing deprived.” This includes people sleeping rough, but the majority are “hidden homeless” – people living in garages, cars, caravan parks, in overcrowded or damp houses, “couch surfing” or staying with friends or relatives.

In a situation like this, exploitation by some landlords is inevitable. In the last few weeks, there have been reports of owners of inner-city apartments advertising shared rooms with 3 or for others, or even “hot bedding” where two shift workers take turns to sleep in the same bed when the other is at work. Recently, a Trade Me advertisement offered a lower bunk bed in a two-bedroom Queen Street apartment for $175 per week. The advertisement said that the top bunk was occupied by a 20-year-old Japanese woman, and that they wanted a female flatmate who would “preferably stay in the bottom bunk alone.” The advertiser, who has since withdrawn the listing, told the NZ Herald that “There are many other listings, if you search on Trade Me, with the same format. It’s very hard and expensive to live in Auckland.”

More concerning are reports of “sex-for-rent” arrangements, where young women are offered accommodation in return for sexual favours. Advertisements have appeared on the North American Craigslist internet site, offering free accommodation for young women. One in central Auckland offered a “nice place to share”. It continued, “I won’t charge any money. Instead I would like to have some real fun.” Another ad from a “sincere and genuine middle aged, divorced guy” asked for an Asian female student to share a 1 bedroom “upmarket” North Shore apartment for free, with “electricity, water, wifi broadband also included, also includes companionship by mutual arrangement”.

Sandz Peipi Te Pou, national manager of TOAH-NNEST sexual violence prevention network, told the NZ Herald: Our concern is that the power dynamic of someone paying the rent could put people in a position where it’s hard to say ‘no’ to sex they don’t want.”

Unlike many European countries, where renting is the norm and tenants have more protection, renting in New Zealand has been regarded as a temporary situation on the path to home ownership. Those who couldn’t afford to buy could access state housing. However, with the sell-off of Housing New Zealand properties and the overheated property market, private renting is becoming the only option for many.

The government has introduced changes to the Residential Tenancies Act which include the requirement that from July 2016 all social housing properties, and all rental properties from July 2019, be insulated “where it can be practically installed”. It also requires that from July 2016, smoke alarms be installed in all rental properties, and strengthens provisions against “retaliatory notice” (where a landlord evicts tenants for complaining about breaches of the Act). This is not going to make a great deal of difference to the majority of tenants. It is already against the law to rent out a damp house, or threaten to throw tenants out for complaining about it, but in a housing crisis where rental properties are scarce, tenants will put up with poor housing conditions rather than risk becoming homeless.

The Green Party has introduced a private members bill to amend the Residential Tenancies Act. It proposes minimum standards of warmth, dryness and safety for all rental properties, restricts rental increases to once every 12 months and set a standard minimum three-year fixed tenancy (with provisions for both parties to set a term of their choice). However, the bill has to be drawn from the ballot of private members’ bills before it can be debated, and given that the National and Act defeated the proposed Rental Warrant of Fitness last year, would be unlikely to pass. Even if it did, it allows two years for social housing owners, and four years for private property owners, to get their properties up to standard.

None of the major political parties are attempting to address the structural issues that are causing the rental crisis – such as the fact that the housing market has become a vehicle for profiteering by wealthy investors, and the privatization of public housing.

Urban Housing is an Ecosocialist Issue

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Fightback is running a series of articles on the housing crisis in Aotearoa/NZ.

Daphne Lawless (Fightback Tamaki Makarau) argues that we need green, sustainable and affordable solutions to the housing problem. But that means more urbanisation, not less.

It’s obvious that there is a great shortage of quality, affordable housing in Aotearoa. Or to be more precise, there’s a shortage in those places where people want to live. There are regular stories about houses going on TradeMe for a few hundred dollars, in places like Balclutha or other isolated rural zones.

Rural houses are great for people who can support themselves in a rural lifestyle, like farm workers or independent writers or artists. But the facts of life in a modern economy are that most of the economic growth, and therefore new jobs and opportunities, will happen in the cities – Auckland in particular, but Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton as well. Because Auckland is where I live and expect to raise my family, it’s that town which I will concentrate on in this article.

Explosive growth

Auckland’s explosive growth to near 1.5 million inhabitants is also exacerbated, not only by its milder climate compared to our other urban centres, but by immigration. New settlers in our country prefer to live near to people who share their culture, hence Auckland’s massively high levels of cultural diversity compared to the rest of the country. Whether Pasifika peoples in Mangere, Chinese in Botany or people from the Indian subcontinent in Sandringham, Auckland’s cultural mosaic gets more complicated and colourful all the time.

But Auckland’s expanding population needs somewhere to live. The latest survey shows that the median house price in Auckland has passed $670,000 – almost 15 times the median yearly income. Historically, that ratio has been stable at around 4. So a house in Auckland costs almost 4 times as much as it should.

The media blame this on “a shortage of new housing”, mainly blaming Auckland Council’s planning tools, like the Metropolitan Urban Limit – refusing to rezone rural areas bordering the city for new housing. But this is unfair, and pushes a political ideology which is both anti-worker, and anti-green.

One of the main problems of neoliberal capitalism is that, when wages are pushed down, workers can’t buy things and the economy slows. One of the solutions – in virtually every advanced country in the world – has been to semi-deliberately create a housing bubble. Loans for buying houses have become cheap and plentiful, pushing up prices. And when house prices go up, those who already own houses (the middle and upper classes) benefit. They can buy cars or go on holidays and “put it on the mortgage”.

But even capitalist economics understands what happens when you just pump more money into a market – prices go up overall. The longer the bubble goes on, the less hope for the people at the bottom of the “housing ladder”. A similar thing happens in the rental market with WINZ giving out Accomodation Supplement, a rent subsidy for those on low-to-average incomes. This money just goes to boost the landlord’s profits, and rents rise to match.

Pricking the bubble

The housing bubble is therefore just another way of transferring wealth from the property-less to the property-owners. But even our bosses are getting nervous that we could end up in a situation like the United States or Ireland, where after the bubble burst, entire neighbourhoods became vacant after their mortgages were foreclosed on. Hence, the Reserve Bank has recently cut the availability of loans for new home-owners (once again punishing the needy so as to safeguard the gains of the greedy).

So what’s a pro-worker, pro-environment solution to the housing crisis? A bursting housing bubble might bring prices down, but would also cause massive economic recession. The right-wing media and the National Government want us to think that the answer is building new housing zones on the fringes of the urban area at “affordable prices”.

Let’s go through all the ways that this kind of urban sprawl is ecological and economic bad news:

  • New fringe suburbs encroach onto fertile farming land. Some of Auckland’s best volcanic soils (such as the market gardens in Avondale) have long since been built over. Pushing development towards Pukekohe would put the food sustainability of the region under severe pressure.
  • New developments require brand new services such as telephone, stormwater and electricity to be built, at a high cost.
  • In New Zealand, new housing areas are generally built without any thought as to public transport – and generally nowhere near workplaces. Not only does this require that everyone who lives there has to own a car, but they have to commute for stupid distances across our already-clogged motorway network, turning expensive fossil fuels into air pollution as they do so.

The National Government’s “special housing areas”, such as Hobsonville Point, Flat Bush or Hingaia, are nowhere near the recently upgraded electric train services, and will all need new bus or ferry services to make it possible to live there without a car. This isn’t solving the housing crisis – just opening it up to developers to profit from.

Up, not out

The alternative – as many insightful commenters on Auckland’s housing issues have identified, for example, the Generation Zero pressure group – is for Auckland to grow up, not out. That is, new affordable, high-density (flat or apartment) housing should be build in and around the Central City and central suburbs. Amazingly enough, it’s only been legal to build apartments in the Auckland CBD since 1995, and since then its population has grown to 25,000 – and, with a large population of students and creative types, it’s generally a lower-income and more culturally diverse population than the ultra-rich inner ‘burbs like Remuera or Herne Bay.

The rich absolutely hate this idea. The working-class population of central Auckland were systematically moved out between the 1950s and 1970s, when “slums” like Freemans Bay and Newton were gutted to build the Central Motorway junction, and surrounding suburbs like Ponsonby or Grey Lynn were gentrified.

The old working-men’s cottages of Auckland’s central fringe suburbs can now fetch more than $1 million. The last thing that their privileged current owners want is for the price to be brought down by affordable apartments being built round the corner – or indeed, for working-class (or non-white) people to live in their area at all. They’d much prefer working people out of sight and out of mind, in the far-flung fringes. Which is of course precisely what happened to the inhabitants of “old” Ponsonby – Mangere or Otara were settled by refugees from “slum clearances” and motorway madness around the CBD.

Housing and transport are both aspects of the same question, as is access to public services. Auckland’s liberal mayor Len Brown, elected by the working-class outer suburbs over the screams of the Parnell and Newmarket ruling classes, has staked his credibility on the Central Rail Link, an underground railway through the CBD which would greatly increase the efficiency of public transport. Auckland’s inner-suburb privileged class, though, see this as part and parcel of intensified housing, and their representatives on Council have tried to sabotage it at every turn. Making urban life in Auckland more accessible, affordable and vibrant is the last thing that the ultra-exclusive, financially-segregated communities of the city fringe want.

Anti-urbanism

Studying the facts, it becomes clear that to improve quality of life in Auckland, to reduce social equalities and make life richer and more affordable for working people, the affordable as well as the green solution is centralisation and intensification combined with much better public transport. However, many who see themselves on the liberal side or even the Left of politics wouldn’t agree.

When I interviewed MANA co-vice-president John Minto in this paper a couple of years ago, when he was running for Mayor of Auckland, he had this to say:

“They’re replacing existing state housing with 8-story slums in the town centre. We’ve seen this happen overseas – they’ll be rubbish-quality… Families need wide spaces to grow up in – they’re not growing to grow up on the sixth floor of an apartment building.”

There is absolutely no reason why – excluding the greed of developers and the ignorance of planners – high-density living should become a “slum” nightmare like an English “estate” or a French “cité”. All that is required is people-centred and eco-friendly planning. Attention to green space, sustainable transport links, and integration to the broader culture of the city can prevent affordable housing becoming a shunned slum.

Large apartment buildings can even be more environmentally friendly than a traditional, draughty, uninsulated Kiwi single-dweller property – especially in, as has happened in Chicago and other places, they become self-sufficient in energy by installing solar panels on their roofs. The biggest barrier to children being raised in the Auckland CBD is the lack of schools – which could be fixed by a people-centred education policy.

Detroit

While John is motivated by concern for the poor, other anti-intensificationists have less savoury motivations. “Big cities” are something, for these people, which happen in other countries. Auckland, to them, is something like a cancer or a parasite on the country, and should never have been allowed to grow to its giant sprawling size (and certainly not with such ethnic diversity!)

Some of them even suggest deliberately letting it run down and become uninhabitable, provoking a Detroit-style exodus to the other centres or the regions. This kind of ruralist or small town mythology makes one remember Karl Marx’s comment about the “idiocy of rural life” – by which he did not mean stupidity, but self-absorbed parochialism.

Ecosocialism concentrates on quality of life as well as income for working people. “Agglomeration benefits” – the economic, cultural and environmental benefits of concentrating and enhancing the central areas of large cities – are very real. Although some will always prefer a suburban big back-yard lifestyle, the cultural benefits of living in a teeming, vibrant, culturally rich community should be open to all working people of Aotearoa/New Zealand. This is the future that the “Remuera brigade” (you’d say Thorndon or Fendalton in other cities, I suppose) hate and fear.

When they “cleared” Freeman’s Bay and Newton in the 1960s, they told the working-class and Pasifika residents that they’d never miss their old “slums” in their brand new houses in far-away Mangere and Otara. We can see how that turned out – economic apartheid, auto-dependent isolation, and a downward spiralling local economy leading to crime. It’s time to put an end to economic apartheid, and bring working people back into the centre of our urban life and culture – where they belong. The only way we can all fit sustainably is by growing our cities upwards.

A national hui on the state housing crisis will be held in Auckland on February the 21st.
Register at statehousinghui@gmail.com
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Desperate people: Christchurch’s slum dwellers

Brownlee is a landlord in Christchurch.

Brownlee is a landlord in Christchurch.

Fightback is running a series of articles on the housing crisis in Aotearoa/NZ.

This article by Byron Clark examines the housing situation in Christchurch.

Desperation is the word that best describes the situation in Christchurch for those with insecure housing. In the years following the series of earthquakes that destroyed a third of buildings in the central city, as well as many in the suburbs particularly in the east of the city, large numbers of people were displaced. At first housing-related protests were held frequently, however the core of these protests were homeowners angry with insurance companies or the Earthquake Commission (EQC) for slow speeds with repairs and rebuilds.

It was not unusual to hear a speaker at one of these rallies talk about having to move out of their home and into their investment property – what happened to their now former tenants was not mentioned. The plight of the homeless was discussed only at these rallies as a sort of add-on at the end of a list of grievances, to add weight to the ‘main issues’.

One of the last major actions of Occupy Christchurch was a rally around the theme of housing as a human right, taking place at the electorate office of Earthquake Recovery minister Gerry Brownlee, a local landlord. The Occupy movement had become a place welcome to the city’s homeless, but had been deliberately excluded from EQC related protests by organisers concerned about the public image of their events.

With the internal problems of Occupy Christchurch at that stage, and the difficulties that come with having no fixed abode, no larger movement grew out of the brief occupation of Brownlees lawn.

Many people adapted to the ‘new normal’. The population of North Canterbury swelled as people moved further away from their workplaces (plans for a commuter train were made by the regional council, but ultimately scrapped) caravans and portable buildings popped up on front lawns, students decided living with their parents another year was their best bet and young couples kept flatting rather than renting a place to themselves.

Meanwhile, workers flooded in from around the country and overseas to rebuild the city, all of them also in need of accommodation. Building consents have been granted to create villages of single-bedroom units to house these workers, such as Cressy, (named after the ship which carried labourers to build the city in the 1850s). But for the most part these villages have yet to open.

With much of the city’s social housing damaged, and recently arrived tradespeople filling boarding houses, the people who pre-quake were at the bottom of the heap – recovering addicts, recently released prisoners, people discharged from psychiatric wards without the needed level of care in the community, were still at the bottom of the heap, only now the bottom was lower than it had been before, when at least a council flat was a possibility.

Into this situation stepped opportunists like Craig Skilling. Skilling, a former car wrecker who filled the former site of his business with chemical toilets, caravans, converted buses and shipping containers, told The Press he housed people “no-one else wants”.

“I have no problems because I run it like a jail. The tenants ring the police on me. I have had the cops down here with guns to my head and everything. I’m not doing this for no c..t except me. It’s called survival.” he told the paper when it reported his “hovel” was likely to face closure. “I’m the one who is going to lose the most. I don’t care where they go. These people don’t care about me. I don’t care about them. I’m providing a service.”

In the article Skilling comes across as a horrible person, but there are hints he was not always that way, “I have to go out my door and flick a switch in my brain and turn into a totally different person.” he told the reporter. He also lives on the site himself, with his partner and three children.

Skilling is a failed businessman who became a slumlord, but in Wellington more successful businessmen – and Brownlee is not the only landlord – are privatising state housing and blocking attempts at policies like a rental warrant of fitness. Skilling’s site is being closed not because it is a slum, but primarily because regulations only permit one residence on a commercial site.

Social housing NGO’s (non-government organisations) are in line to purchase privatised housing and take advantage of income-related rents previously only available to state house tenants, and are therefore unlikely to kick up a fuss. The left-leaning city council voters elected in 2013 has talked of more social housing, but this has been delayed, in part due to a $1.2 billion funding shortfall which is seeing the council abruptly change course and embarking on a there-is-no-alternative style austerity and privatisation agenda which could see charges for water use while rates increase (and be sure those increases will be passed on to tenants).

A national hui on the state housing crisis will be held in Auckland on February the 21st.
Register at statehousinghui@gmail.com
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Aotearoa/NZ: Socialist solutions needed to address housing crisis

The following article by CWI reporters in Aotearoa/New Zealand first appeared in the Australian magazine The Socialist.

New Zealand is in the midst of a housing crisis. This crisis was created by decades of neo-liberal policy including the deregulation of housing consent and planning, the sell-off of state housing stock, and the failure to close tax loop-holes. These loop-holes have enabled a thin layer of people to create wealth out of property speculation while others struggle to meet rental payments in substandard housing.

The absence of a capital gains tax has led many investors to see property as a means to make easy profits. This has exacerbated inequality with a smaller number of people owning an increasing number of property assets to the exclusion of others.

An OECD 2011 report on New Zealand noted that: “Wealth is concentrated to a greater extent in property compared to most other OECD countries…Supply rigidities and tax incentives that bias savings decisions towards property investment have amplified the increase in house prices, widening wealth inequalities in the form of larger homes for those who can afford them, but deteriorating affordability for the rest of the population.”

The gaps in the tax system have helped create a boom in the property sector. This has left many young families unable to purchase a home. Between 1991 and 2012 home ownership fell to a 50 year low and is forecast to continue falling.

Since 1991 the government’s main intervention in the housing market has been the provision of the Accommodation Supplement to low income earners. This payment effectively operates as a landlord-subsidy ensuring landlords continue to gain a profit from their property investments. At the same time it sends a message to employers that they do not have to pay a living wage. Since 1991, the growth of this subsidy has been enormous and yet it does nothing to treat the underlying reasons for why housing is unaffordable for so many families.

The privatisation of state housing

In 1991, with the incoming National government, New Zealand saw the “mother of all budgets” which included the selling-off of state housing and the introduction of market rents for state housing.

While the policy of market rents was eventually reversed with the introduction of Income Rent Subsidies, New Zealand continues to live with the legacy of a severely depleted state housing stock. State housing is now seen as only an option for the poorest families – only those classed as “high priority” are placed on waiting lists.

According to the Housing New Zealand Annual Report 2011/2012: “Under the new criteria, only new applicants with high-priority needs are eligible for state rentals, with moderate and low-priority applicants no longer being placed on the waiting list.”

The government has meanwhile earmarked $46.8 million during 2015/16 and 2016/17 for Housing New Zealand to provide additional rent subsidies for those tenants forced to move into market rentals.

The most recent legislation to pass on state housing does nothing to address the housing short fall. Instead it allows private organisations to bid for tenders to provide social housing. This will only make access to affordable housing more difficult. The false idea being pushed is that the ‘market’ is the best mechanism to deliver social services. The truth is it’s an attempt to open new areas of the economy for exploitation.

Recently Housing New Zealand has also been through a process of “reconfiguring its portfolio”. This is code for selling off properties which have increased in value. In Auckland this has occurred most controversially in Glenn Innes under the “The Tamaki Transformation Project”.

Under the plan, Housing New Zealand has been evicting tenants and selling properties which have increased in value. State assets are not immune to the imperative that they deliver a profit, or as Housing New Zealand put it, an “acceptable return to the Crown”.

The Tamaki Redevelopment Company has been formed as a joint Council/Government agency to oversee the development of the remaining properties into one of Auckland’s largest housing projects. Under the plan, houses will be built under public-private partnerships, with a mix of state and market housing. The purpose of the Tamaki Redevelopment Company is to oversee the transfer of assets away from Housing New Zealand and to implement the management of them by private organisations. Essentially this is a stage of further privatising state housing.

Market rents

While the government is intent on pushing more families out of state housing and into market rentals, current laws provide little security for renters. There are very few provisions to address tenure security and housing that meets health standards and the differing mobility requirements of tenants.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) notes that despite the well-documented relationship between health problems and housing quality, there has been complete neglect from the government on ensuring dwellings meet basic standards.

While the government has committed an additional $102 million over the next four years on housing, none of it will go towards improving rental conditions. Most of this expenditure is needed to cover the increased demand for the Income Rent Subsidy and Accommodation Supplement.

Auckland housing issues even more acute

In Auckland there is an estimated shortfall of 15,000 dwellings and this is expected to worsen. The Auckland City Council is acting at the behest of property developers and is pushing for deregulated zoning and size restrictions so that developers can build more dwellings on less land. While there are increased rules around some visual aspects, such as how developments will fit with the heritage values of an area, they do not address the most serious problems around low-quality unsafe housing.

The Salvation Army’s 2012 report on Auckland housing is damning, not just on the lack of government response to the crisis, but it also points to the governments role in facilitating the crisis through bad legislation that has benefited property speculators and developers above families forced to live in increasingly unaffordable and unhealthy housing.

The report said: “We have developed, supported and nurtured systems that have sustained and even expanded inequality. These systems have allowed some Aucklanders to grow rich through property speculation and have allowed some Aucklanders to develop poor-quality housing that not only leaks, but is ugly and unliveable. These systems have allowed some Aucklanders to occupy larger and larger houses, while other Aucklanders live in more crowded houses and in sheds, garages and caravans. These systems have biased our tax system so that not only are house prices excessively inflated but now higher and higher public subsidies are required for modest-income households to be able to afford any housing”

Socialists fight for immediate reforms to provide some relief to people suffering from housing stress and to address the root causes of the crisis.

We call for:

-Housing to be provided to all as a basic human right -A massive public works program to build thousands of new state homes to wipe out the waiting lists and create much needed construction jobs -Tax reform that will eliminate the ability of speculators to make profits out of housing -The introduction of strict regulation for rental properties that requires all housing to meet standards on liveability, mobility, health and safety – A cap on private rents to limit landlords profiteering

A lasting solution

The commodification of housing is a perversity. We should not have a situation where some profit and others struggle to find a decent affordable place to live. The only way to change this once and for all is to change the profit driven system that creates this scenario. A socialist system based on public ownership, democratic control and sustainable planning would prioritise people’s needs and ensure that the basics of life, like a roof over your head, were provided to all.

Colonisation, capitalism and the housing crisis

Hone Harawira, facing arrest for defending public housing at Glen Innes.

Hone Harawira, facing arrest for defending public housing at Glen Innes.

Ben Jacobs, Fightback (Wellington).

Housing is in crisis. Decades of market-based policies have decimated the social housing stock, and the market is failing to provide affordable housing. After all, housing is a necessity, not a luxury good – letting the intersection of supply and demand determine prices serves only to deny housing to those who can’t afford it.

Social attitudes to housing – and successive government policies – have roots in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s colonial history. The value placed on land by the British Crown and its representatives is evidenced by the lengths they were prepared to go to in order to obtain it: aggressive deception, in the case of the Kemp purchase, or outright theft by means of punitive confiscation throughout the North Island. Such value was determined in part by the sales pitch that was made to colonials, that only in New Zealand would they have the opportunity to own their own property. This was the birth of the quarter-acre dream.

The modern equivalent of this propaganda can be evidenced in the cornucopia of house and garden magazines, home development TV shows, and extensive media coverage given over to the concerns of the minority of New Zealanders that own their own home and can afford to invest in its beautification.

At the other end of the spectrum, discourse regarding homelessness has been blaming and paternalistic – in the case of Wellington’s recent Alternative Giving scheme – and aggressive in the case of Auckland council’s proposed Nuisance Begging bylaw and the deployment of security guards to move homeless people “along” during APEC and the Rugby World Cup.

This capitalist propaganda comes against a background of declining real wages – workers’ share of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product has been steadily declining since the 1970s, forcing prospective home-owners to become increasingly indebted for life in order to achieve their dream of home “ownership”.

Workers share of Gross Domestic Product. Source: Bill Rosenberg, CTU (2010)

Workers share of Gross Domestic Product. Source: Bill Rosenberg, CTU (2010)

 

household debt

Household debt ($M). Source: Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Credit from banks flows easily on the assumption that they can just claim back the house if the borrower can’t meet the payments, and that house values won’t drop. But based on the capitalist model of supply and demand, this effectively pushes house prices up, encouraging the development of more profitable, more luxurious housing in exclusive subdivisions.

These upward pressures on house prices flow on to rental accommodation, Statistics New Zealand recently released a report based on census data showing a doubling in real terms of the cost rental accommodation in two decades.

Rent has doubled over the last 20 years. Source: Statistics New Zealand

Rent has doubled over the last 20 years. Source: Statistics New Zealand

But it’s not just market forces alone. Neoliberal policies introduced by the fourth labour Government in the 1980s – and carried on by National in the 90s – reduced the proportion of tenants who were renting from public sector landlords from 38% in 1986 to 18% by 2006. Further, public sector landlords, such as Housing Corp and city councils increasingly acted like private sector property developers, introducing market rates and expecting to profit from their provision of social housing. Likewise, private landlords have become more profit-hungry. In the 1980s it was relatively common for employers to provide subsidised accommodation to employees, something that is almost unheard of today.

Rightly, much media comment is made of the situation in Auckland, where a fast growing working class population is confronted by a slower housing market that is increasingly expensive. But this pattern is evident in other centres too. This month, the Porirua community newspaper the Kapi Mana led with a story State housing crisis, noting that 191 families were on the wait list for 11 available state houses in Porirua.

Opposition to the Tamaki Transformation Project in Glen Innes reached public consciousness in recent months, notably with the arrest of Mana leader Hone Harawira. After a period of false community consultation, where any intent to reduce the number of state houses was strongly denied, the project was initiated in 2011 with a reduction in the number of state houses from 156 to 78, eviction of tenants and the sale of seaside land to property developers for private housing.

Mainstream political parties have responded to the crisis. Predictably, Labour and National ignore the economic and political reality. Labour recently announced plans to subsidise the development of a large number of “affordable” homes, initially costing $300,000. This presents an excellent opportunity for speculators, as these will be houses for private sale. But it was their proposed policy of restricting investment in property to “New Zealanders” that got most attention, on the left anyway. Blaming “the foreigners” for the failings of their own market-friendly policies betrays Labour as a capitalist party that would rather introduce racist policies than dare to appear remotely socialist. Interestingly Australian investors would not be denied access under Labour’s proposed policy – apparently they are not the bad kind of foreigner.

National are predictably letting the provision of social housing deteriorate even further, and just as predictably, don’t seem to care. This year’s budget handed more responsibility for the provision of social housing to community organisations – not necessarily a bad thing in itself – but it is apparent that these organisations will be so poorly funded that the number of homes is expected to decrease as a result. National’s election promises in respect of social housing focussed more on “moving along” the unworthy poor from state homes and replacing them with more worthy tenants.

Mana’s housing policy priorities explicitly address some of the causes of the housing crisis, acknowledging the effects of colonialism on Maori home ownership, and seeking to address homelessness. Mana policy development seems to derive from the struggle for transformative reforms, and as such, demand the attention and qualified support of socialists. Unfortunately, these policies also attracted the attention of the founders and Facebook friends of the so-called Pakeha Party, whose deliberate historical ignorance wilfully construed such policies as reverse racism. Of course the Pakeha Party has quickly become a bizarre parody of itself, but in its heyday it did attract a large number of followers. Socialists must struggle not only for public housing, but against widespread confusion as to the causes of disenfranchisement (hint: it’s not foreigners or Maori).