The new government has stopped the planned privatisation of large parts of the state housing stock of around 70,000 homes. At least another 30,000 had been built but these were sold off in previous years. But the current stockpile hasn’t increased in decades. The state housing stock has been starved of support for decades and become simply the place of last resort for the destitute.
Despite stopping further sales, housing remains one area where the government remains committed to almost a completely market-based solution. For various reasons in this country, housing has become a speculative nightmare with prices beyond what working people can afford.
The new government has promised tens of thousands of more private homes will be built for sale and that more of these houses will be “affordable” housing. But this seems like an empty dream unless there is a massive economic crisis and collapse in prices which would wipe out hundreds of billions of equity of NZ households and throw the country into an economic depression.
The problem the government faces is that any form of subsidy to allow working people to buy a home is simply capitalised in the increased price of the home the day after it is bought. Builders of housing projects are actually property speculators looking to make a killing not social service providers. Supervision of these projects is usually so slack that the ‘affordable houses” are simply sold on the side to friends and family to take advantage of the immediate speculative gain.
The only realistic answer is to begin the government’s fundamental duty to provide housing to those most in need first and then extend that duty up the chain of need as fast as possible. That demands the immediate launching of a massive state house building programme with life-time guarantees of tenancy at affordable rates. An initial goal of 10,000 a year is easily achievable with a determined effort.
Labour has promised only 1000 more state houses a year and the Minister of Housing Phil Twyford has said he hopes to double that. That is almost a joke. The sad fact of things is that the government could actually borrow and build state houses without breaching the “fiscal responsibility” rules because the state house becomes an asset in the government’s books.
We could also do a massive programme of community and Marae house building that could create co-operative housing forms that guarantee tenancy for life. The home must be sold back to the community with only compensation for improvements made being given rather than profit from inflated land values because the land would remain in state, local council, Marae or cooperative hands. Whole communities could be built so we no longer lived isolated individuals but as part of a broader community with accessible community centres, sports facilities, schools, child care centres, local shops not malls, parks and gardens, and areas for growing food.
In this way, the state could lead the building programme needed with quality housing being built but with modular patterns and economies of scale. Every unemployed Kiwi, including all school leavers, could be offered on-the-job trades training if they wanted it and surplus labour recruited from overseas with the promise of permanent residence from day one to prevent exploitation.
The obsession with “owning your own home” does not exist in countries as wealthy as Germany because they have lifetime tenancies and any home build must be able to last three generations!
The government has a responsibility to provide everyone who needs one a sturdy, clean, sustainable home with tenure protected. The state does not have a duty to make sure everyone has an asset for speculative gain – or loss as the case may be under capitalism.