Does Labour’s Man In The Wairarapa Have A Gaping Gulf Betwixt Rhetoric And Reality?


Earlier in the week, Wairarapa Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty made some pretty stirling remarks about the problems of social housing and housing affordability at a local Meet The Candidates event. He’s quoted by the Wairarapa Times-Age as stating an intent to “prioritise” sorting the present situation wherein denizens of the local Trust House social housing scheme have to “spend a huge amount of their income just to pay the rent bill”.

Now on the face of it, that’s a pretty admirable commitment. And he’s absolutely right in his follow-up remarks about how the high cost of living in what’s supposed to be “affordable” housing for the less well-off has significant flow-on effects for the kids of tenants, and the wider community as well.

But, as ever in politics … we campaign in poetry, and we govern in prose.

And as applies McAnulty, it’s his conduct as a Director on the Board of the trust which owns and runs the housing program – a position which gives him a say in the rates that are charged in rent to the Trust’s tenants – which gives me pause to question just how genuine he is in what he’s been saying.

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After all – how can you trust a man who so righteously decries the overlevying of rents from those who can least afford it one minute … yet who’s serving on the Board of the very same entity he now claims is overcharging its tenants.

Surely the decent think to do would have been to front up, explain both yourself and your position on the corporate decision-making body responsible for the issue you’re now up in arms about, and then take it from there. Rather than grandstanding on the issue in a candidates’ meeting in a manner which appears deliberately calculated to make it seem like the whole thing’s the result of somebody else’s wrongdoing that McAnulty had no part in or accountability for.

Now if you’ve just joined us from somewhere outside the Wairarapa, a brief explanation is probably called for as to just what this trust is and why it’s supposed to exist in the first place.

We’ll leave aside the whole history of the thing for reasons of space. But suffice to say, the organization McAnulty is on the Board of is the direct result of an ordinary liquor licensing trust finding itself transformed rather rapidly into an organization dedicated to ‘picking up the pieces’ of National’s moronic bout of neoliberal economic “reform” in the mid-late 1990s.

One way by which it did that, was through moving to acquire the social housing stock in the area that National was attempting to fire-sale privatize in advance of the 1999 General Election. The idea was to minimize much of the harm associated with the Government’s flogging off these properties to their mates in the private sector, through having a local organization set up and run in the public interest take over the ownership of same and responsibility for renting them out to those in need.

That’s a pretty noble objective, if you ask me – and part of me would like to think that the absolutely bargain basement the Nats asked of the Trust for the (then) 541 houses in question [some 10.5 million dollars all up – an average price of about $19,408.50 apiece] was motivated by this consideration.

According to the Trust’s own history document, for the first few years after they took ownership of the houses, they roundly met this objective. They charged well below market-rate rents, and even managed to lower rents in some areas below where they’d been before the  Trust took ownership.

However, in the last few years, something’s evidently changed; and despite the Trust’s assurances on their website that they’re still very much in the “affordable housing” business, it appears that they’ve now moved towards a somewhat different model of ‘service provision’. Indeed, McAnulty’s own campaign speech from two years ago – when he was running for a seat on a coterminous organization, from whence he’s made the leap to where he is today – makes it pretty clear that by 2015 at least, a profit was being turned from the Trust’s supposedly “social” housing stock. Interestingly, at that point McAnulty didn’t appear to have issue with the trust making money off the most vulnerable in his community, provided that the resultant cash was put back into other philanthropic ventures elsewhere.

Which brings us back to the present day – a situation wherein the Trust doing what McAnulty seemingly suggested was right and proper when he was running for a *different* office, has now thanks to his efforts [in possibly more than one sense of the word] become a minor election issue at local candidate forae.

To be fair to the Trust, it IS investing in new “affordable housing” to go alongside its extant stock of presently presumably less-affordable properties, with conversion efforts already underway to replace a larger three-bedroom house with a number of smaller one or two bedroom units, at a cost of $1.2 million. Money which may very well have come from the over-charged rents to other tenants that McAnulty has taken issue with recently.

So maybe, at some point in the next Parliamentary term, some eight lucky tenants will be able to enjoy [for the moment, anyway] low-rent accommodation in exactly the manner that Trust House was theoretically set up to provide.

That’s great, as a small start.

But in the mean-time, I really do think it’s on Kieran McAnulty to step up and explain to his neighbours and those considering a vote for him just what it is that he’s been doing prior to last Tuesday to try and lower rents for those living in his organization’s housing. If anything.

Or is the reason I can’t seem to find him discussing this issue in any of his many and various capacities and candidacies over the last few years before September because he only ‘discovered’ it was a problem when he found himself sharing a stage with folk who’d taken a much more substantial interest in it for a much greater period of time.



    What I see as a real issue now; regarding rental property.

    Since national took over the housing issues, and turned it into a very expensive asset for landlords, and for renters alike is that it came from a list of issues.

    Firstly the result of the GFC caused insurance companies to go to the financial wall through their own speculation on the stock market we assume.

    Then these insurance companies all seemed to cry ‘help’ and were bailed out by us when our governments responded,

    But then, next the insurance companies cried foul by saying they needed to become ‘risk adverse’ (a new term we did not hear before) which then caused a whole raft of ‘building regulations’ to spring up from our Building minister “Maurice Williams; remember?

    So the National government assisted the insurance companies to restrict all ‘handymen’ not to be allowed to fix their own properties!!!!!

    So then next became a ‘tradesmen storage’ and contractors labour costs all rose dramatically.

    So still there is the other ‘elephant in the room, and that was that these new ‘compliance costs made rents shoot up as building compliance costs rose and now all things National had done have built up to the ‘perfect storm’ we have now, – which is an overpriced property to rental market.

    Simple to see that national alone caused this bloody mess that was to hard for them to obviously see it was going to happen under National’s own watch as they eagerly cranked up all these compliance costs onto us renters and property owners alike.

  2. Community housing appears to be just part of the Trust’s business:

    “Why rent with us?

    * We understand that our house is your home – and we’ll make sure it’s maintained. Since 1999, we’ve invested more than $20 million in improving and maintaining our rentals – things like heating, insulation, fencing, redecorating, and concreting driveways.
    * We listen to our tenants. When you call our office, you’ll speak with a local who knows your neighbourhood.
    * We have a good reputation. Officially. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment approved us as New Zealand’s first registered community housing provider in 2014. This means that if you’re on a low income and you become one of our new tenants, you might be eligible for an extra rent supplement. To find out more, contact Work and Income.”

    As a board member of the trust McAnulty is just one among others, so his influence may be limited. And operating such a trust in the given settings we have, i.e. National’s neoliberal market-focused way, limits the trust to what they can do. If they want to expand their community housing business, they do like other players have to make enough money to buy more homes, on an already more expensive market.

    Hence they do what they do, I think. Question is, what will a future Labour led government offer, to improve matters for renters and new home buyers. They face a massive challenge, and the mess left us by the Nats and their ACT and MP allies cannot be understated, it is massive.

  3. It’s rich criticizing Labour candidates on taking up the cause of social housing and rents. Over the last 9 years minimum wage has gone up by $3 odd and in Wellington area rents increased by over 8% last year alone. Over 9% the previous year. Ready, fire, aim journalism.

  4. A really brave government would quote the statements in the Universal Statement on Human Rights that adequate housing is a right, not a privilege, and abolish market rents. The last Labour government did that for what was left of the public housing stock after Bolger’s fire sale government, and forced HousingNZ to charge rents at a fair fixed proportion of the tenant’s income. Why not make that a standard rule for all rentals?

    The most obvious downside of this policy (aside from the shrieks of horror from the housing speculation industry) would be that landlords would tend to discriminate against lower income tenants, particularly beneficiaries. But they do that now anyway, which is why so many of our most vulnerable whānau are sleeping rough and living in garages and cars.

    The main upside of this policy is that outside of a boutique business renting to the top income earners, it would no longer be viable to make a living out of scalping what could be tenants’ deposits for their own home. Renting (and sleeping outdoors or in vehicles) would go back to being a lifestyle choice, not an economic necessity, with landlords aiming to cover the costs related to their rentals (maintenance, rates etc), rather than making a profit having someone else pay their mortgage for them.

  5. Same story with the TOP candidate in the Otaki electorate. On one hand sells pensioner housing, on the other supports a party that doesn’t want housing sold to private entities.

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