It is deeply disappointing to see the Christchurch City Council lining up to help the government sell 2,500 state houses in Christchurch.
The council has announced it wants to restructure the way its Otautahi Community Housing Trust is funded to enable the trust to be part of a consortium to bid for the houses. The council says their bid is to stop the houses being sold into foreign hands and it’s better to keep them in local ownership.
This is misguided reasoning.
If the government is successful in selling Christchurch state houses, it will be their first step walking away from provided the extra housing the city so badly needs. Only the government has the resources and the capacity to build the substantial number of homes for low-income tenants so desperately needed across the city.
Without wanting to be melodramatic, many of our children and grandchildren will need state housing in the future and if we allow the government to turn its back on these needs now it will be a betrayal of future generations as well as those at the centre of the present housing crisis. Many families in dreadful housing situations live in quiet desperation with only token support from politicians and city councillors. Community housing groups, including the council, can’t cope with the housing crisis now and will be less able to cope in future as problems multiply and the government is nowhere to be seen.
The Otautahi Community Housing Trust, which the council set up last year as a half-way house to privatisation of council rental housing, is in no position to double the number of houses it administers. The Trust board has barely got its feet under the table and tenants are frustrated at having to deal with both the landlord (the Trust) and the house owner (the council). The Trust is struggling for credibility with tenants.
Taking on double the number of houses may make Trust board members feel important but it is a short-sighted, self-serving approach which is not in the interests of state house tenants and those of our children and grandchildren who will need state housing in the future.
It’s also worth emphasising that along with the government, the council has no ground to stand on with its record of looking after tenants needing subsidised housing.
Despite the six years which have passed since the earthquakes the council is still 357 houses short of what it had before the earthquakes. What is worse they have no plan to make up this number. One would have hoped the housing needs of vulnerable tenants would have taken precedence over other council work but despite the huge payouts from EQC and the settling of the council’s insurance claim there is no plan and no commitment to make up the housing numbers to pre-earthquake levels. That funding has gone elsewhere.
Council housing has been dropped as a priority and the mayor wants to bring forward planning for a sports stadium. It is shameful that providing corporate welfare for corporate sport is a priority well ahead of meeting the housing needs of struggling tenants and families.
And now the council is working to facilitate the government’s privatisation agenda for state housing.
The council is right to suggest our state houses could end up in foreign hands. The government has been openly courting foreign investors, and Treasury, who are running the sale for the government, held a seminar for potential buyers in Sydney last December. Many others are champing at the bit to get these houses. Hong Kong property billionaire Dr Henry Cheng Kar-Shun (owner of Pinnacle Group) has already tried to buy the 1124 state houses the government sold in Tauranga last year and will be waiting for a similar chance in Christchurch.
There are two attractions for big business. They want the government-subsidised rental income from which they can make substantial profits as well as the big unearned incomes to be gained by redeveloping state house areas, increasing housing density and selling off the extra housing privately.
If OCHT joins a consortium to make a bid it will be other private companies who provide the investment capital needed and local capitalists are just as rapacious as foreign corporates. It’s a no brainer that rather than allow the private sector investors to drain off profits from housing families on low incomes the government and council should be building the homes and housing the people themselves so the money can be recycled into building more homes.
So what should the Christchurch City Council be doing in the face of government plans to privatise 2,500 state houses in Christchurch?
Firstly, to persistently and publicly oppose government plans to sell off our state houses.
Secondly to demand, on behalf of us all, that the government build more state houses to meet housing needs in Christchurch now and in the future.
Thirdly to re-rebuild council housing to pre-earthquake numbers.
Facilitating social vandalism in the form of National Party housing policy not part of the council’s duty.
It’s time the council stood on its feet.