Marlborough Express - Innovation needed in housing

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In September 1937, Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage carried a table into New Zealand's first state house.

Nearly 80 years on, the state owns 65,000 houses and leases a further 3000. This represents 4.5 per cent of houses in New Zealand and makes Housing New Zealand by far the biggest owner of residential property in the country, housing around 193,000 people.

On top of this the government provides additional support, via accommodation supplements, meaning that more than 290,000 households are supported by the state. The cost of the accommodation supplement alone totals $1.2 billion a year.
The Government is committed to increasing the provision of housing to those who are in genuine need. That is why the Prime Minister appointed three Ministers to housing-related portfolios in the Cabinet, but there will never be a quick fix to housing problems.

The Government is looking at ways to provide a better range of housing options for people in need.

Although it is unrealistic to expect that every town in the country should have a limitless supply of emergency housing on standby just in case it is needed, the Government is keen to ensure that there is housing available for those who need it and that the home that is supplied is the best fit for the occupants.

As circumstances change, there has to be the expectation that housing will be reassessed. Stories of tenants living in the same home for close to 40 years suggest that this has not been happening.

Statistics out last week confirm that family sizes are decreasing.

The average family has fewer than two children and a survey in 2013 suggested that more than half of the existing state houses are too large for the needs of 21st century families.

I am supportive of a move to providing smaller units on smaller plots of land, which reflect trends where large sections are often seen as a burden rather than an asset.

What we need right now is innovation, adaptability and flexibility in dealing with housing issues for families and individuals in need.

The experience of countries like the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom suggests that having non-governmental involvement in the mix is one way of moving forward.

At present only 131 social housing places are provided nationally by community housing providers. That is less than a quarter of 1 per cent of the total pool.

The existing housing model needs a review so that it meets needs of the most vulnerable. The Government is not changing the fundamentals, it is rising to the challenge of working to improve the supply and delivery of services to those in need.