State housing vs Social housing
This article explores how state housing and social housing are different. The government has been pursuing a conflation of the two, but they are vastly different. We look at the legislative language used and what Community Housing Providers (CHPs) are. We also explore why state housing should remain publicly accessible and the changing role that community groups have and will have through amendments in the law.
Is state housing different to social housing?
In policy and legislation released by government since 2013 the language used to describe the state housing stock in Aotearoa has shifted from state housing to social housing. This change in language is a strategic move in order to confuse tenants and the public as the government pushes through legislation and policy to restructure and privatise the housing stock.
The Social Housing Reform (Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Amendment) Act 2013 outlines social housing as an umbrella term for both Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) housing and those run by CHPs.
Income Related Rent will be extended to CHPs which will have to be approved and registered under the Ministry of Social Development (MSD). CHPs include organisations such as Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and companies involved in public-private partnerships. These groups will take over the responsibilities of HNZC as the landlord for tenants in severe need for housing. Councils are excluded from accessing these subsidies.
Is it a bad thing that "community groups" go into managing the housing?
There is nothing wrong with communities housing communities; the problem rests in the selling off of state housing and the limiting of the availability of housing to specific tenants rather than all those in need.
The problem is that the privatisation of state run organisations leads to an increase in social problems, and is not a sustainable solution to a lack of housing for low-income tenants. CHPs may have good intentions but under this model of management they will be placed in competition with each other for funding from MSD, which is trickled down from the government. Furthermore, CHPs are often underfunded and under resourced to be able to deal with a transition at this level, and the sustained maintenance of the housing stock.
Under this model of housing provision, accountability of CHPs diminishes, and the turnover of people in social housing means that housing will no longer be for life, and instead emergency housing for those most in need. Internationally the transfer of public housing to the third sector or to private organisations has led to increased rent to cover the costs of development and maintenance, as well as eviction, transients and homelessness.
Many CHPs will have to borrow large amounts of money from banks, or receive significant subsidies in order to incentivise being a social landlord, this means that the market will determine the lives of those in desperate need of housing.
Housing New Zealand have not been perfect landlords, however when the housing stock becomes privatised the responsibility to house people in need will shift to providing only the minimum to balance books.
Restructuring housing and placing the power in MSD as opposed to HNZ is a way of limiting tenants access to services. Not only will tenants under Reviewable Tenancies be forced into the private market which means many of those on a waiting list for state housing will be wiped, but tenants that are granted social housing will be placed in a bureaucratic process that limits them to a number figure that CHPs require to report back to the government.
A home is about community, security, knowing your neighbours and building relationships. Homes are more than four walls, more than temporary shelter until you are moved along again.
Those that have high and complex needs such as our disabled and elderly population are included in the policy shift where they will be reviewed for their eligibility in a social house. When you move people with high and complex needs out of their communities where their networks exist, the complexity of needs increase. If there is a large demand for state housing then wouldn’t building more houses as opposed to demolishing and removing homes be a better option? Especially when the redevelopments that are currently occurring under Housing New Zealand are building less social housing and more private rentals on land that could be used to build more state houses.
As Nick Smith (Building and Housing Minister) stated in the first reading of the Social Reform Act “having high-need families replace those on market rents in State houses actually increases the cost to the Government”. The selling off of land controlled by the state may create an increase in profits in the short-term, however this is unsustainable. Keeping people in their homes and investing money into maintaining their standard is a better option than investing 47 million into reviewing and restructuring the state housing sector.