9 Aug 2020

Green Party plans to clear record-high social housing list in five years

5:52 pm on 9 August 2020

The Green Party has unveiled its housing plan which aims to get the record-high number of people off the social housing waiting list, while improving the size and quality of the rental market.

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson

Green Party co-leaders James Shaw and Marama Davidson at today's announcement Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

It includes using the Crown backed scheme already used for KiwiBuild to build more rental houses, expanding the Progressive Home Ownership scheme announced last month, and regulating property managers.

The goal is to clear the social housing list - currently about 18,000 - within five years.

The party wants to create a non-profit rental sector by offering Crown guarantees for Community Housing Providers, including iwi, to build new properties which can be rented out long-term.

That would include $250 million in seed funding for "newly built community non-profit rental homes".

It is still pushing for a full warrant of fitness for rental and wants the financial assistance for renters reviewed.

The Greens also want to make sure there's no net loss of land that could be used for housing, except when it is being returned to mana whenua for housing development.

"As well as making sure houses aren't sold off unnecessarily, the Green Party will protect the Crown's total landholdings, so future governments retain housing options ... the Green Party will ensure the Government Policy Statement (GPS) on housing and urban development provides clear direction on divestment of Crown land and reinvestment in new builds."

The waiting list for social housing is at a record high, and in response, the Greens want government agencies to gear up and for Kāinga Ora's borrowing limit to be increased from $7.1 billion to $12b over the next five years "to allow it to scale up the Crown build programme to 5000 new homes a year".

"This funding will be available to support Kāinga Ora to build homes directly, and to contract building to community housing providers."

Some progress has been made on improving housing standards but the Greens still want a full warrant of fitness for rentals; "requiring all rental properties to be independently assessed for compliance with the Healthy Homes Standards".

"This will be introduced in phases, matching the implementation of the standards themselves - applying first to new rental agreements, and then expanding to all rental properties."

The plan would also require property managers to come under the same regulatory regime as real estate agents.

"This will introduce a licensing requirement for property managers and provide clear professional obligations and complaints mechanisms for misconduct, whether or not it reaches the threshold of breaching the Residential Tenancies Act," the policy says.

Party co-leader Marama Davidson describes the plan as "a bold and cohesive blueprint to ensure we're all in a warm, dry home, no matter where we live or whether we rent or own."

"Successive governments have sold off too much social and community housing while letting the homes we do have fall into disrepair," she says.

"They've also allowed speculators to over-invest in property, pushing up house prices and leaving too many families struggling with the high cost of rent."

She says the housing plan will create a "sustainable, non-profit rental sector" by using government money as a guarantee to build new properties, to be managed as long-term rentals.

The policy also includes a specific plan to support papakāinga and improve housing for Māori.

The Greens say there are "numerous barriers to developing whenua Māori for papakāinga", created by successive governments, including "government support across multiple agencies that is uncoordinated and underfunded, problems accessing finance, planning restrictions, and lack of infrastructure".

A specialist cross-agency Māori Housing Development Unit would be created, and the Kāinga Whenua Loan Scheme would be "reviewed and reformed".

Davidson acknowledged the Greens have been part of the government under which numbers on the waiting list soared, but says there should have been a much greater focus on public housing.

"I've been quite clear about that, I've said that this term ... that leaving things to market and commercial developments has shown to not work both in this government and many previous governments.

"So I do I am quite upfront about that. And that's why this plan prioritises public and affordable housing, a not for profit rental sector."

But she also says "four decades of neglect" have contributed to so many people waiting to get into a decent house.

The "key part" to tackling those record-high numbers was the involvement of the non-government organisations, Davidson says.

"While the government has been limited in its capacity it's the involvement of the community housing sector who know their communities, who have got the relationships with the financial sector, as well as with local neighbourhoods, iwi and hapū."

Davidson says the total package would cost about $1.2b - $950m for capital and $250m for operational spending.

'Wishful thinking'

However, the plan has been dismissed as "wishful thinking" by the National Party.

Spokesperson Jacqui Dean says "blue-sky thinking has never been the Green's problem, but delivery has".

"The government partners talked a big game on housing before the last election and they haven't delivered. KiwiBuild was a disaster and it took three years just to get started on progressive homeownership."

Dean says the Greens' plan would mean more regulation and red tape, placing "onerous" requirements and costs on landlords, "scaring them out of the market, reducing the country's rental stock and putting the price up on those that remain".

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