METIRIA TUREI: Empty houses and empty promises

One of the Green Party’s goals when we get into government will be to make sure all New Zealanders have a warm, dry home to call their own.

We’ve learnt this week that there are more than 250 state homes sitting empty, while the government tries to sell them. And even worse, they’ve been empty for more than a year. This is a tragedy when there are so many people on the waiting list waiting for state home.

For a Green-Labour government, housing will be a priority. We’ll build tens of thousands of affordable homes. We’ll make some available for progressive ownership through a rent-to-buy programme. It is a fundamental Kiwi value that if you work hard and save up, you should be able to afford to buy a family home.

The housing crisis has become a symbol of National’s failures over the past eight years. Sure, if you look at the headline numbers the economy is growing. But the fact that first homes are so unaffordable for young families and we have record numbers of homeless people – forty thousand – shows that National’s economy is broken. Economic growth is theoretically supposed to deliver higher living standards and quality of life, but the housing crisis is evidence that’s just not happening.

National has been fudging the numbers about the housing crisis, deliberately trying to create confusion about how many houses are lacking and how many are being built. But according to the BNZ and Statistics NZ, one thing’s clear: growth in the number of building consents issued for new homes has slowed to its lowest rate in five years. This is despite the government trying to get more building consents issued so more homes get built. The only word for that is failure.

This week we were shocked to uncover an example of National’s Special Housing Areas (SHAs) being misused. SHAs were supposed to accelerate the building of affordable homes for working people and their families. They do this by allowing some developments to bypass the normal planning processes and consenting rules. But in Queenstown, an SHA is being used to build Queenstown Country Club, a gated development that calls itself “arguably the most luxurious and prestigious retirement resort that New Zealand has ever seen.”

This is not what SHAs are for. Luxury retirement resorts should go through the normal planning processes, not skirt around them. SHAs should be for affordable homes only. The irony is that there’s so little affordable housing in Queenstown that the developer of this resort is building its own worker accommodation, because otherwise the workers won’t have anywhere to live while they’re building the resort.

The Green Party has a Bill before Parliament that will help young people into homes by allowing them to divert some of their student loan repayments into a savings account for a home deposit, for a limited time. A whole generation of young people is going out into the world owing tens of thousands of dollars each for their education and facing an average Auckland house price of over one million dollars. We have to fix that.

We’ve got ideas to make life better for people who rent too. The Greens and Labour have both promoted a WOF for rental properties, to make sure they’re warm, dry, and safe. We’d also like to see reform of the Residential Tenancies Act to encourage longer, more stable tenancies and provide more transparency around rent rises. People with mortgages know when and why banks might raise their mortgage payments, and people who rent their homes deserve the same.

We’re a small country and in the past we’ve built tens of thousands of affordable homes for our people. We can, and we must, do that again.