Government’s time to deliver on housing promises

4:43 pm on 3 November 2020

With over 20,000 people on the national housing waiting list and an out of control housing market, the new government has to act, Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith says.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust chief executive Bernie Smith says the government has to act to address the housing crisis in areas like South Auckland, which have a lack of affordable and state housing. Photo: Supplied / LDR

Figures released last week show at the end of August there were 20,385 households on the waiting list for state or social housing, up from 19,438 in July and 13,167 in August 2019. Over 18,000 of those on the list were ranked as "priority A" - the most needy.

The national housing waiting list has more than trebled since 2017 and has grown every quarter since September 2015. Areas like South Auckland, where the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust is based, are right at the coalface.

"We need to see a substantially different approach to what we've seen over the last three years," Smith said.

According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, the number of people in South Auckland on the housing waiting list increased 36 percent from 2203 in June last year to 2987 in June 2020, while the number of emergency housing special needs grants in South Auckland increased 84 percent during the same period.

Smith has been an outspoken critic of the government's performance on housing and last month said it had overpromised and underdelivered.

"The government has proudly said it's going to build 8000 houses over the next four years. But 2000 of them are for transitional housing. The waiting list is growing by over 6000 a year, so they aren't even meeting the growth in demand.

"Now we've had the media reports in recent days that the government has been selling off some of our state houses."

He said Labour was playing politics when it claimed its state house sales were not the same as National's.

Smith has previously called for a New Zealand housing strategy to address the country's housing crisis and look at homelessness, housing affordability and the other associated issues. He said that remained central to any long-term solution.

"I think that is what is missing. If they could come up with a national housing strategy that crossed political lines and they agreed over the next 10, 20, 30 years this is what the strategy is then we would be heading in the same direction."

Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing) Kris Faafoi said since coming into power in 2017, the government had encouraged people experiencing housing problems to come forward and ask for help.

"The government acknowledges that there continues to be a steep increase in demand for public housing which is why we have embarked on the largest public housing build programme in generations," he said.

"The government is on track to deliver 18,000 additional housing places by 2024. In the period from November 2017 to August 2020 we were able to house 19,263 people who were on the register. We are making headway but there is more work to do to see the register start to reduce.

"We agree with Bernie Smith that consistent public housing policy, irrespective of what political party is in government, needs to be at the heart of what is going to be a long-term challenge to turn around decades of neglect, which is why we would urge future governments to stick with the groundwork we have laid and continue our large-scale public housing build programme."

Meanwhile, Bernie Smith and the team at Monte Cecilia Housing Trust are busier than ever.

"Post Covid-19 we're getting 20-30 calls a day, when a year ago we were only getting 10 to 15 calls a week."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the allocation of new portfolios on Monday, with Megan Woods retaining her role as Housing Minister. Labour MP Poto Williams will take over from Faafoi as the Associate Minister of Housing (Public Housing).

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