8 Jun 2017

PM spoke of housing crisis in 2010 - Sallies

12:13 pm on 8 June 2017

Prime Minister Bill English said privately seven years ago a housing crisis was looming in Auckland, a senior Salvation Army official says.

Major Campbell Roberts said in 2010, Mr English - then finance minister - told him he feared a crisis on the horizon.

But as Prime Minister, Mr English has consistently said in public there is no housing crisis.

Bill English, boot of car being lived in.

Bill English, inset, has said there is no housing crisis, despite increasing reports of people living in cars, garages and overcrowded housing. Photo: RNZ / Supplied

Mr Roberts, founder of the Salvation Army's social policy unit, told Morning Report the comments were made during a phone conversation in which Mr English was asking him to be part of the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group.

The group was set up by the government in February 2010 to provide independent advice on effective delivery of state housing, with Mr Roberts as one of its members.

"He [Mr English] said a couple of things; one, the use of of the $15 billion asset of Housing New Zealand, and the second was that he was seeing a major crisis in Auckland in housing in five or six years," said Mr Roberts.

"It was a passing comment - but it was one of the reasons for setting up the shareholders group"

"I think if you're in government you don't obviously want to say there is a crisis. That's understandable. But the reality is that there does need to be planning from the government which actually addresses a crisis which we all know is there."

Mr Roberts said he'd spoken publicly of the conversation before, but it hadn't been picked until he mentioned it again in a debate on housing in Wellington last night.

"I was saying politicians generally have had a number of inquiries, going back to the Royal Commission on social policy, Labour's housing strategy and then the Housing Shareholders Group.

"And the point I was making was that everyone has realised and been told clearly by experts in the field - whether it be from the private sector or the community sector - that we need to do something about the supply of housing, particularly in Auckland.

"But subsequent government's haven't operated fast enough or urgently enough."

A spokesperson for the prime minister said Mr English was having a number of such conversations on housing reform at the time, including with a housing advisory group which included the Salvation Army and he doesn't recall exactly what he said.

"At the time the government was seeking advice from a range of stakeholders, including community groups, as it sought to reform New Zealand's state housing and planning system which was affecting New Zealand's ability to build for a growing country and economy," the statement said.

"The government has always acknowledged housing is a challenge and has been working hard to increase supply.

"That work has been underway for a number of years and led to a comprehensive overhaul of New Zealand's planning systems, the social housing sector, and the launch of a large scale government building programme."

Auckland has become one of the most expensive cities in the world to buy a house, with the international Demographia survey earlier this year ranking the city's housing market the fourth least affordable in the world.

Emergency housing providers have reported growing numbers of people living in cars, garages and substandard and overcrowded housing in Auckland, and have warned the situation is worsening.

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