Housing advocates in Gisborne are welcoming government plans to encourage more community owned social housing and plan to share their reaction to the recently released Housing Shareholders Advisory Group report with East Coast MP Anne Tolley at a meeting on Friday.
“If the Minister of Housing is serious about ensuring every person and family has access to affordable, healthy and appropriate housing then we need the kind of innovation and resources that communities can offer and not just the state” said Manu Caddie.
Mr Caddie is the Convenor of Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group (THAG), a network of community groups, government agencies, businesses and individuals with an interest in regional housing issues.
“What we don’t want to see is government offloading its housing responsibilities onto communities that are not prepared for the challenges of housing provision. We desperately need a regional housing plan that identifies the most pressing issues and how those needs can be addressed with a mix of public, private and philanthropic investment. Then we need to look at building the capacity and business plans for one or more organisations to meet the needs.”
Mr Caddie said he was disappointed to receive a letter from Minister of Housing, Phil Heatley, which said Housing NZ should not be helping regions to identify housing needs in local communities.
“If the Minister wants social housing providers to ‘step up’, there will have to be a period of Housing NZ supporting local infrastructure to develop” said Mr Caddie.
Last week the meeting of Tairawhiti Housing Advisory Group discussed plans to establish a social housing trust that could provide emergency accommodation to people made homeless or otherwise forced to live in substandard housing. Without any resourcing to establish such an entity it would be difficult to ensure it is sustainable in the long run.
“It’s easy to say sell off Council’s pensioner flats to a housing trust but developing expertise to manage social housing will take some time and expertise.”
“Housing Cooperatives are very popular in the United Kingdom and the United States, if individual home ownership is not an option for some people then becoming shareholders in a group of properties can foster skills and a change in attitude as co-owners take more responsibility for our own housing needs.”
Mr Caddie said housing advocacy is also a big need in the Gisborne region and that would be another key role for a social housing trust.
“We are currently looking into the viability of local or national legislation that would require every rental property to pass a simple Warrant of Fitness before it can be let.”
Some Gisborne families rent unsafe, unhealthy homes and have few, if any, alternatives.
“The majority of landlords are decent, generous people, but a few refuse to repair run down properties – that can cause a lot of misery and leads to other problems for vulnerable individuals and families.”
THAG discussed Housing NZ waiting lists at its meeting and agreed that compared to larger centres Gisborne has relatively low waiting lists, some of this is because family connections mean there may be more sharing of space available and in remote rural areas housing needs often remain unnoticed by officials.
Another issue THAG is looking into is the possibility of putting a social benefit weighting on state house sales which were also flagged in the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group report.
The THAG meeting discussed a situation last month where a community group tendered for a state house in an unpopular street with the intention of establishing a computer clubhouse, homework centre and neighbourhood meeting space. The tender was won by a private investor who plans to rent out the property.
“It’s stupid that current policy means Housing NZ cannot consider the value a community centre would have added to a neighbourhood desperately short of public amenities to be worth more than the small difference in tender price” said Mr Caddie.
Mr Caddie said THAG will be looking at options for Housing NZ Regional Managers to have more discretion in considering tenders from first home owners, owner-occupiers, social housing providers and charitable community groups alongside private investors.