A transition to nowhere

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It is not often I disagree with John Minto’s analysis and commentary but I do with that in his recent article ‘Prime Minister plays with red herrings while children sleep in cars’. John’s article is unfair and somewhat inaccurate I believe. 

It is inaccurate because the Prime Minister’s claim, cited in John’s article, that in 2017 ‘not everyone could receive the emergency housing special needs grant, not everyone could make it onto a public housing waitlist and not everyone was moving into permanent housing’.is true.

In 2017, and under the direction of then Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett, a homeless family or person could not simply apply for housing assistance from the state and have their need added to public housing waiting list. Instead, they had to phone in and have their needs assessed over the phone to establish if they could even go into a Work and Income office to actually apply for assistance. This was the worst case of bureaucratic gate keeping I have ever seen. 

I worked for the Salvation Army at the time and we did an OIA request of the Ministry of Social Development to report the numbers of such calls it received seeking housing assistance. Remarkably the Ministry didn’t record this information – such was the deliberate ignorance of the MSD bureaucrats. The best way to avoid having politically embarrassing data is simply not to collect it.

This all changed with the election of the Labour led government in August 2017. While John is correct in his claim that ‘the criteria for getting on to the state house waiting list has not changed since Labour came to government’, the process for even getting to ask for help became a lot easier. This improved accessibility is the reason for the explosion in the public housing waiting at least until 2020. Over this period the waiting list grew from 6,180 households in December 2017 to 22.521 in December 2020.

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The Labour government did not create the homelessness and unmet housing need we see now. This was created by successive governments not having the courage to tax wealth and choosing not to see public rental housing as a mainstay of our social policy but rather as a residual in an otherwise private housing market. We have the housing system middle-class homeowners voted for.

The present Government suffers from this same lack of courage and vision. After nearly five years in office we should be seeing some turn in the housing crisis but we simply aren’t. Lower quartile rents have risen almost 40% in the past five years while the value of the housing wealth for the 60% of households which owns all the houses grew by $600 billion. None of it taxed of course.

It is difficult to know what is happening in terms of the stock of state housing and other social housing provided by so-called community housing organisations. As John says in his article the political spin only ever talks about the numbers of new state houses built and not the ones being demolished or sold off. The number of rental dwellings owned by Kainga Ora – the government’s housing agency, has grown by just 3000 since Labour came to power.  Meanwhile the Government is selling off state housing land to pay for its rebuild in what amounts to state sponsored gentrification. 

The Government is trying to address homelessness through its funding of emergency and transitional housing. The problem appears now that it is a transition to nowhere. In March 2020 the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development contracted to various NGOs to provide 3092 transitional housing places. By March 2022 this programme had grown to 5145 places. The 2022 Budget provided for spending of over $550 million for emergency and transition housing.  Amongst this was a budget of $31.5 million which is ‘intended to achieve better outcomes in Rotorua for vulnerable families and whānau with children by contracting specific motels to provide emergency accommodation’. This budget is expected to assist 200 families meaning an average annual cost of $155,000 per family.

It is churlish to suggest that the Labour Government is not taking homelessness seriously but it is spending more and more money on band aids while it waits for the Kainga Ora to get its act together and start building more houses than it demolishes. This turnaround may not be far away given signs of what is being built in Auckland at least. Yet even when we get to 5,000 new state house builds a year, public housing will still remain a residual part of our housing system and taxpayers will still be paying $150,000 per year to house a homeless family in a shabby Rotorua motel.

What is more appalling than this prospect is the sure knowledge that a National led Government will do even less.

t



32 COMMENTS

  1. The day Jacinda from announcements makes a real different in the life of the poor, is the day I start listening to her, and her mob’s messages.

  2. I’m not sure what’s ‘compassionate’ about dumping all the homeless people in the country in Rotorua.

  3. With the near 40 year neo liberal consensus amongst the main parliamentary parties there is a real blockage on so many social and public infrastructure needs. Monetarism basically says “leave it to the dog eat dog private sector and things will work out”–but they clearly have not for the bottom 50% of New Zealanders who own just over two percent of the wealth!

    Most new Governments claim to represent “all New Zealanders” but some NZers have more power and more say and more influence than others–and they like it that way–e.g. Mr “7 pads” Luxon who likes to lecture the poor & vulnerable.

    Any number of reports for decades have charted the progression of inequality and poverty in Aotearoa NZ, the thing surely is to do something about it! It will take a new generation getting politically active, community organising and taking direct action to finally boot Roger’n’Ruth’s toxic legacy and make some progress on housing and many other urgent working class requirements.

  4. The number of people living in cars has ballooned under Labour so what is your last paragraph there for other than to show your political colours?

    • Bob I think the point is the problem was understated in the first place. This is coming from someone working in the area (ie the writer) who might know a thing or two. Ironically you won’t acknowledge that because you are showing your “political colours”.

  5. Capital gains tax sound more appealing to help with this dilemma IMO but what do I know I’m a generation renter and just worry about paying next weeks rent or I could be looking at a govt subsidy for one of those motel’s with very precarious living arrangements not to mention the type of individuals that those vacancies attract.

    • Capital gains tax would have gotten through but the statement Jacinda made was “there is no political will to change the law” which indicated her coalition partner Winston said no.
      I have heard many things that were in a coalition agreement Winston said no to, breaking contracts just like Winston has been good at no matter what govt he gets into.

  6. Where it matters most this government is mean, miserable and uncaringly cruel.
    They will not listen to the social housing agencies and food distribution agencies. They are all about consultants and spin doctors and power.
    Let’s vote for TOP or NZ First to get some integrity back into our parliament. I feel NZ has been so wronged by this majority Labour govt. and most people can see this too.
    However National and Act are not the answer.

  7. I’m desperately going to try and nut-shell the problem.
    Here goes.
    Massive money is made from agrarian exports. Once farmer produce leaves their farm gates, sheds and silo’s that produce then becomes someone else’s and does it really need to be written that, that someone else is not farmers. Aye Boys?
    The money once sequestered from the sale of those agrarian goods heads into the commercial sector of AO/NZ and from there, it induces a feeding frenzy amongst the select few who are part of the clique of rich currency manipulators.
    Once in reach of those who smell the billions of dollars they never earned how does one effectily launder that money so as that money can become fluid within the investment and banking sectors, or the clans and covens if you prefer. I prefer those terms to accountants, bankers, investment consultants, share traders, off-shore lenders, marketers and sundry money fetishists and real estate companies and individuals.
    Once the exports earned money is re routed into the gruseome guts of the ammoral, and trust me, there are thousands of the bastards out there in AO/NZ, that money becomes a means to great wealth for one or two and the rest of us can get fucked.
    A brilliant and very effective way to launder money that was never earned is via the domestic property market. It’s a perfect place to hide billions in that the property market is both inflatable AND deflatable and the only losers are the poor bastards now stuck with huge mortgages [ to foreign owned banksters mainly ] so all the crims in the RBNZ have to do, is increase the ORC. The hyper rich never lose however. They make damn sure of that.
    And that, dear children, is why politicians variously look panic stricken, aghast, sleeplessly bug eyed and in panic. It’s because they are. Every well intended AO/NZ politician hits that Oh! Fuck! spot in their career where they suddenly realise the enormity of the trans generational con we’re buried under. The hyper riche have been stealing primary industry money then redirecting that money through various money laundering mechanisms. Namely residential property lending and by buying state assets at a loss then propping them up financially then reselling them.
    Man, I’d hate to be Adrian Orr right now. I see the gubbimint’s just bought Kiwi Bank.
    RNZ
    ‘Government to buy Kiwibank for $2.1 billion’
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/government-to-buy-kiwibank-for-21-billion/DKZGAUXZPDJU3QFMAJLDKUIH4Q/
    Does that mean that Global Banking’s about to shit itself? If that happens? Are our four foreign owned banksters vulnerable suddenly?
    I see on RNZ that graham hart’s come out of his hidy hole.
    RNZ.
    Wow! What a guy! And Carter Holt Harvey too. Wow. Aren’t you homeless and vulnerable proud of graham hart and his wife what with starship hospital and everything. Gee whizz!
    ‘Graeme Hart inducted into NZ Business Hall of Fame’
    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/business/473298/graeme-hart-inducted-into-nz-business-hall-of-fame

  8. It may not be true that the MSD did not record, nor could not access calls about housing assistance. The Community Services Card Call Centre originally established years back as a temporary measure, and now permanent, and I think, now known as The Call Centre, was established with dedicated lines, and dedicated staff, manning separate lines : a ‘general’ line for members of the public, and a ‘medical’ line primarily for doctors and pharmacists, the latter requiring and providing much more limited personal information than the general line.

    Both leave electronic footprints originating from the the call centre operator’s key board. All incoming calls were and are recorded, and they are also archived for an unknown period; it stands to reason that housing requests would be processed in much the same way, and it should not have been difficult to eg develop an algorithm or even a simple search process to determine whatever specific information was needed about housing assistance. Indeed, it should have been done to help ascertain the need.

    • they just don’t want to do that…knowing the result (like who kills there kids) is just too embarassing…better PR to appear incompetent than vicious.

      • Gagarin. Yes. All these tel calls – MSD, ACC etc – are logged, personal identifiers and so on are required, as are operator notes; the information was there and may still be. Bennett, with the passage of time, seems to me to be more grotesque and overbearing than she did back then, and it is not unreasonable to surmise that flunkies needing to keep their jobs and pay their mortgages and buy their children shoes, would bite their tongues and back the minister.

  9. Its not that bad, I enjoyed my van life immensely

    Fresh night air, no fridge to run too, no dumbass tell-lie-vision to fuck you up

  10. It takes great skill to screw up a country like New Zealand!
    We have less than a tenth of the population density of the UK so there’s plenty of space! The country is literally covered with pine trees suitable for house construction. So where has it all gone wrong?
    In order of priority:
    > Local government won’t release land for building.
    > Local government won’t recognise international standards for construction materials, instead requiring local brand names on drawings thus allowing suppliers to gouge the market.
    > Local government gets none of the central government tax revenue so cannot afford to build the infrastructure (roads, sewers, power etc) needed to allow for development. Which is one of the reasons they won’t release land.

    It’s really not a hard thing to fix, is it?

  11. ” The Labour government did not create the homelessness and unmet housing need we see now. This was created by successive governments not having the courage to tax wealth and choosing not to see public rental housing as a mainstay of our social policy but rather as a residual in an otherwise private housing market. We have the housing system middle-class homeowners voted for ”

    The Labour government continues to enforce homelessness by its adherence to neo liberal consensus policies and really believing that by continuing with that approach that somehow they can fix what has eluded the previous four neo liberal led governments for 38 years , a fully funded state program that provides homes for everyone in this country not just the middle class who Labour have decided is more important.

  12. Alan, thank you for your excellent work for New Zealanders.

    To leave behind any of us is a mortal deficiency in my view, Forty years of this shit. I, as a middle-classian, live with the idea of it, but my neighbours here in a poor suburb live with the reality. Poverty should be our most important domestic matter but it’s been scuffed under the carpet for forty years — or our soul.

  13. … not having the courage to tax wealth…
    This government has proved you can just borrow it instead. They’ve borrowed tens of billions and pissed it up against the wall on many things other than housing. They could have thrown vastly greater sums at housing but they chose not to. So what would be the point of all that extra tax? The issue is the spending.

    …the 60% of households which owns all the houses grew by $600 billion. None of it taxed of course.
    Of course it’s not taxed. It’s bloody paper money that’s not “worth” anything until you sell or unless you’re willing to borrow against it to buy that fabulous new jet ski. So… you’d demand that homeowners do that in order to get the actual cash for the tax? I’ll bet you would.

    I did not ask for the stupid valuation that has accrued to my house because I’m well aware that it’s screwing my kids futures. No, YOU did that – Labour and National both, with stupid land planning schemes, refusal to tackle the oligopoly of housing material suppliers, but most of all by printing vast sums of money. And now your only suggestion is to tax it. Of course. Because you can’t think of anything else. Ever.

  14. I am totally confused Alan, perhaps you could point out to me the difference between what Minto wrote and what you have, doesn’t seem to be a real difference to me at all.

    Yes we know this issue has taken years and years, and the two main parties are primarily to blame, but the current one with the hand wringing woman in charge seems to have done SFA about it. Despite having an enormous mandate.

    You are not by chance ‘tribal labour’ that group of idiots who never ever criticise the party they are wedded to.

  15. Labour started off with a hiss and a roar and launched into a review on poverty. The Working Expert Advisory Group produced 24 recommendations and then they hit a brick wall. Labour couldnt do anything because of Winston Peters.
    But you would think after the last election Labour would have nobody opposing what they do so could have done something with those 24 recommendations but instead have just pandered to their new right wing voters with a gold plated benefit scheme during covid and business subsidies and those in poverty got an extra 20 bucks a week that was then taken out of other subsidies they were getting, a bit of clever accounting and they got nothing really.
    The disabled got a new level of beurocracy through the creation of a new ministry, just another govt department creating hot air while those who are disabled got nothing.
    And now National is talking up sanctions.
    I dont see a point in voting, none of them are working for the areas that need help in this country but fall over themselves to do everything they can for those that dont.

    • Very high regard, Mark, but please vote. If only the people had been in control these last forty years, but we weren’t in the mood. By which our species dies in my lifetime. With — the most important thing — significant discomfort to myself.

  16. the dominant economics profession has a lot of misery to answer for.
    i remember taking someone to housing NZ during the National government time. He could not get onto the waiting list because he wasnt homeless. i was told that even a car is not counted as homeless or sleeping on someones couch because you have a roof over your head. you only got on the list if there was some reason you could not rent privately and get accommodation supplement. i.e. the untenantable. created by cruel economics.

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