In my last post I talked about an Australian company attempting to impose sweat shop type activities in New Zealand, conditions that would not be tolerated in Australia, on my face book page I also shared a petition that asked people to oppose the privatization of the public housing stock in New Zealand http://action.labour.org.nz/save-our-state-houses. The interesting thing was there was no real discussion around the Cotton On issue but I was attacked for my position on Public Housing. I accept that a company attempting to screw down workers conditions is pretty common place in New Zealand, we rolled over and capitulated in the 1980’s to Neo-Liberal ideology with barely a whimper, perhaps we as workers deserve that we after all had choices, get a new job, emigrate to Australia (many did) make a life style decision to not work or accept that one was essentially a serf. I would have thought that housing would raise a bigger outcry.
State houses were introduced in 1937 by a Labour Government as part of a big push to build public works. The tenants in public housing in New Zealand are generally disadvantaged, vulnerable people who lack political power and agency. One of the complaints that was made about public housing was that it was full of immigrants who got houses for life. I pointed out that in New Zealand we were all immigrants at some stage in our lives however the truth of this matter is that the preposition that public housing is full of immigrants is patently untrue, even if it were it points out that people who have a legal right to be in New Zealand are never treated as second class citizens. The crisis in housing in New Zealand has been slowly growing since the late 70’s. Housing shortages have been periodical but this is the longest one so far. We have been assured that market forces will prevail and the private sector will step in and correct any shortages in any market because demand will always drive supply unless the absolute supply is limited. This has not proved to be true.
What we have now is a government that is driven by ideology to the extent that they will sell off housing stock at a discount and then continue to subsidise that stock on the basis that they say that Government does not do a good enough job. It appears that it is good enough to return a dividend to government that amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars over a relatively brief period of time. In 1979 we had a population of 3.1 million, in the latest census we recorded a population of some 4.4 million. In 1979 we had a stock of public housing of around 58000 dwellings, today’s stock is around 68000, over some 36 years an increase of only 10,000. So whilst the overall stock of housing has increased it has been nowhere near enough to meet demand. When you add in the fact that families are smaller it highlights the desperate situation that is continuing to develop.
Accommodation supplements are meant to bridge the gap for many people who have limited incomes, these have not increased at the same rate as rents have. Clever landlords will exploit this system, increase the accommodation supplement and landlords increase the rent. Thus negating the effect of the increase. What we find is people living in caravans, garages, poorly built sleep outs and in cramped conditions and sub standard homes, that are over crowded. This leads to many problems, social,psychological and physical. Children are the biggest losers in all of these situations, the health effects of substandard and crowded housing are well documented.
So what do we know from all of this, we know that the market does not provide for the needs of many people, we know that this has been an ongoing long-term problem. In addition to this we know that the biggest reason landlords buy properties for is the tax free capital gains that they can gain form the property, especially in places like Auckland and Wellington. Given our knowledge of the problem what are the solutions? We know that it is highly political and contested ground for a very long time, it is also controversial, any resource that is limited also becomes a matter of debate as some people who miss out on a house point the finger at those who are fortunate to be allocated one. I will explore some solutions proposed and some that I have pondered on in my next blog,