It should make an uncomfortable juxtaposition for the mayor and councillors.
One week they vote an extra $220 million for a new rugby stadium without public consultation and the next they are consulting on whether they should give a $30 million loan to the council’s housing arm – the Otautahi Community Housing Trust – to build 130 more council rental homes.
It’s clear where the mayor and councillors see their priorities for democratic input into major decisions.
The $30 million proposed loan, which must be repaid to the council on commercial terms, is both misdirected and wholly inadequate.
It is misdirected because the council itself should be building the homes rather than passing this responsibility to an unelected entity at arms length from democratic community control.
It is wholly inadequate because it would help rebuild only a small fraction of the council rental units so desperately needed and less than half the number which were destroyed in the earthquakes.
The desperate need is clear in the long waiting lists for council rental accommodation (552 in March this year) and state housing (750 in June this year) in Christchurch. This is evidenced on the ground by the high number of people living in cars, vans, caravans, garages, sheds, hopelessly overcrowded homes or sleeping rough.
House rents skyrocketed following the earthquakes and while the cost has plateaued recently this is at an unaffordable level for most families and tenants.
Most worryingly the council proposal reiterates several times – as some sort of holy mantra – that council housing must be provided at no cost to ratepayers. This relates to some historic decision made in a different time for different circumstances.
It has no relevance today in the housing crisis we face.
But while the council refuses to spend ratepayer dollars on rebuilding its rental housing it is happy to spend millions in rates rebates for property developers building luxury apartments in the city centre. (An OIA request shows $8.5 million in city centre residential rate rebates – a $15,000 ratepayer subsidy per unit – over the past 4 years)
So why is the council providing millions in ratepayer subsidies to house high-income earners but refusing a single rates dollar to house tenants and families on low incomes?
The situation defies any sort of logic. It makes no sense refusing to fund housing which brings in rental returns to the council but giving away millions to property developers to build houses which bring no return whatever to the council.
This is commercially stupid as well as morally repugnant and should be a matter of shame for the mayor and elected councillors.
In a letter to Keep Our Assets Canterbury on 21 June Deputy Mayor Andrew Turner, speaking on behalf of the mayor and councillors, said a proposal existed which “…would see funds made available to allow social housing rebuilding activity to bring stock back to greater than pre-earthquake levels within the short term…”
This proposed $30 million loan is the sad outcome of such a positive, hopeful message. It won’t even build half the homes needed to meet the pre-quake level.
Council needs to bring the same energy and determination to council rental housing as it has for a new rugby stadium.
It must provide the funds to immediately rebuild all council rental housing destroyed in the earthquakes and develop a long-term plan to meet the housing needs of all tenants and families in Christchurch.
$200 million needs to be set aside to achieve this goal. It will be an investment which will bring the city economic and social returns.
If this means pushing out the timeline for the $473 million spend on a new rugby stadium then that will be the right thing to do.
Retaking control and responsibility for council housing from the OCHT should happen immediately as should cancelling rates rebates for property developers across the city.
The mayor and councillors should embrace their responsibility to build and maintain council rental housing for the good of the community as a whole.
We should expect no less.