Speech to the National Maori Housing Conference

Oct 1, 2016 | News

E nga mana, e nga reo, e te iwi o te motu, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Introduction – Community Housing Sector

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

I would like to acknowledge:

  • mana whenua – Ngā Potiki
  • Tauranga Moana Tauranga Tangata
  • Conference sponsors, including Te Puni Kokiri
  • Tauranga Moana National Māori Housing Conference committee for organising this event

It’s great to be here to discuss the significant work the Government is doing to support vulnerable New Zealanders, and to thank you for the great work you do.

I know that Minister Flavell will be speaking to you later on this afternoon about the Maori housing strategy and how the Government is working on better housing outcomes for Maori. So I am going to speak about our focus on social housing.

You play an incredibly important role in our communities and the Government recognises and respects that. Indeed, we encourage it because we want to ensure as many New Zealanders as need it benefit from your expertise, experience and compassion.

We know that the Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas, advice and expertise. And we understand that to address the issues our nation faces we must all work together.

It goes without saying that those of you working in the community, right at the coalface, know your communities best and can deliver the services that your communities need.

That’s why the Government’s Social Housing Reform Programme includes growing the community housing sector.

By giving you more funding and resources, more opportunity and support, we can harness your ideas and expertise so it can help even more of our most vulnerable people.

It is not an easy task. I think we all agree housing is a complex issue. We deal with real people and their real issues, which means simple housing solutions, on their own, are never going to be a nice, neat fix. There are many moving parts which all need to be dealt with separately then fitted together, so that all the levers I’m pulling work as they are meant to.

When it comes down to it, my focus is on getting people in critical need somewhere warm, dry and safe to live, addressing their issues and moving them into permanent housing. We need land, we need houses, and we need community involvement.

Simply put, my mantra for social housing is the right person, in the right place, for the right length of time, at the right price.

Today I am going to outline how the Government, are making all the parts of this housing machine work together.

Social Housing is important – it is an issue I’m passionate about

We acknowledge many New Zealanders are concerned about housing and housing affordability – from enough quality rentals, to more affordable homes for first-home buyers and more housing for those who need a hand-up.

The Government is acutely aware of the New Zealanders who need more support, from emergency accommodation right through to permanent housing.

It is not right that people live on the street, in cars, garages and overcrowded homes.

It simply should not happen in our society and we take this issue extremely seriously.

We feel very strongly the responsibility to make sure we are meeting the needs of our most vulnerable.

I asked the Prime Minister for this job – to be our first Minister for Social Housing – because I saw the need for it.

Social housing is important – not just for housing, but to improve lives

As a former Minister of Social Development, I know it starts at home.

I know that without somewhere warm, dry and stable to live, children won’t do as well in school and they won’t be as healthy or as well settled. And their parents won’t have the ability to go on to paid work and independence.

Older New Zealanders or those with complex needs won’t get the support they need, or the support they are receiving won’t be as effective, if they don’t have somewhere to call home.

A stable home, with appropriate wrap-around support, is important in helping people get on their feet because as you know, a lack of housing is sometimes not the root of the whole problem.

It can be a symptom of underlying issues such as trouble finding work, an absence of life skills, mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse or problems with the law.

As Social Housing Minister I have two challenges – they are people challenges and building challenges.

That’s why I’ve got such a strong focus, not just on getting the stock of social houses right – whether they are government or community owned, but also working with community housing providers to make real, long-term improvements to people’s lives.

Social housing is important – to taxpayers

Social housing is a large part of what the Government does.

Last year, taxpayers spent around $766 million on Income Related Rent Subsidies to support people living in social housing. This year we’ve increased it to more than $826 million.

When you combine it with the accommodation supplement to support people in private rentals, taxpayers will spend close to $2 billion on rental subsidies this year.

A rough calculation makes that more than $800 from every working person in the country. That money is hard-earned so it is our duty to spend it well, and to ensure that we are delivering the maximum benefit to vulnerable New Zealanders.

Our plan is called the Social Housing Reform Programme

The Prime Minister announced the Government’s Social Housing Reform Programme at the start of last year and that remains the foundation of our efforts.

These reforms, which build on our social sector work in this area over the last few years, are aimed squarely at improving the circumstances of vulnerable New Zealanders who need our help, and everything is done with this in mind.

The Prime Minister set out five objectives, our five-point plan. This often gets lost in the public and political debate, so let me reiterate the points:

  • The first is to ensure people who need housing support from the Government can get it.
  • Second, to help social housing tenants to independence, where that’s appropriate.
  • Third, to ensure properties used for social housing are the right size and configuration, and are in the right places.
  • Fourth, to increase affordable housing supply, particularly in Auckland.
  • And finally, to encourage more diverse ownership of social housing.

And we are making good progress in all of these areas.

It is an ambitious work programme and I’d like to recap some of the things we’ve brought in and how they fit together to achieve our goals.

Steps we’ve taken

As I said, a fundamental part of the programme is growing the community housing sector to ensure that more people receive the best possible support.

We have made the Ministry of Social Development the purchaser of social housing and opened up the income-related rent subsidy to community housing providers, not just Housing New Zealand.

This is a major change to our social housing system and a significant opportunity for the organisations in this room.

But it isn’t just about making the income-related rent subsidy available to providers.

Earlier this month I announced extra funding of $24.4 million for community housing providers in Auckland, on top of $120.1 million announced in the Budget – a total of $144.5 million – with the aim of getting more community housing providers to grow their stock.

Providers building new social housing in Auckland can now get an upfront grant of up to 50 per cent of the value of the development, or a weekly grant of up to 50 per cent of market rent on top of the current rental subsidies the Government provides – that’s 150 per cent of the market rent! Or they can get a combination of both.

This gives them the financial support to offer tenancy management and wraparound services.

We are making progress but we are continuing to keep our focus. Over the last year we have increased the number of homes from community housing providers in Auckland from 110 to 244 places.

The Ministry of Social Development estimates we’ll have at least 2500 new places in the pipeline in Auckland over the next three years from Housing New Zealand and community housing providers.

We want more diversity in our social housing sector, across emergency, medium-term and permanent housing.

You will be aware that we are progressing with the transfer of more than 1000 Housing New Zealand properties in Tauranga to a community housing provider. The reason for this is simple – hand over the running of social housing to those organisations who are committed to their communities and who can show us better ways of managing tenants and upgrading houses.

I also want to reiterate that the properties will have to stay in social housing unless the Government agrees otherwise, and existing tenants will be housed for the duration of their need.

This process is demonstrating the benefit of having new, innovative ways of working with tenants – and I look forward to the transfer being finalised in the coming months.

Housing New Zealand is investing heavily in its housing stock to get the right houses of the right size in the right place to meet current demand.

When we started these reforms, about a third of its stock was in the wrong place or was the wrong size. We are turning that around.

We have more properties coming on-stream all the time, big and small developments, and we are ramping this up.

In the last two months alone, Housing New Zealand has bought, built or redeveloped 55 new homes, 43 of these have been in Auckland.

One example is in Waterview, Auckland, where six old houses are making way for 17 new and modern houses.

Another is in New Lynn, where there are seven homes on a site where there were only three before.

We have just announced the redevelopment of 300 Housing New Zealand properties into about 1200 new homes in Northcote.

This $750 million project will transform them into more homes that are a better mix of size and type, that are warmer, drier and healthier.
We’ll have more Housing New Zealand homes but equally, we’ll be opening up more affordable and market housing.

Northcote is the latest example of the Government’s work to develop its own land to accelerate the supply of new houses. Others are the Tamaki and Mt Roskill redevelopments which will deliver literally hundreds of new homes.

So, it is clear we are making progress in this area but there is still more to come.

Freeing up existing properties for those in the greatest need is critical.

We need to ensure that valuable social housing space is not taken up by people who don’t need the support at the expense of those who do. For example, it makes no sense to have someone who can afford market rent living alone in a three-bedroom subsidised property. To be frank, we need that property for a low-income family.

We have completed nearly 3000 tenancy reviews, resulting in 788 people moving into alternative accommodation and another 113 people buying their own homes.

We have also made payments of $2.2 million to help people with costs such as bonds, letting fees, moving assistance and so on.

We are helping people to move out of Auckland where the need is most acute, and into areas where there are more jobs and more houses, giving them more opportunities to get ahead.

Housing New Zealand is working on reducing the time properties are vacant between tenancies, it has also put hundreds of long-term vacant properties back into the letting pool, and is continuing to add two-bedroom homes to existing properties. It aims to add another 65 two-bedroom homes by the end of this year.

Housing New Zealand is also working with a panel to look at the safe meth limit in properties. We know the bar is probably set too high, and this is keeping properties vacant. But Housing New Zealand has a duty of care to its tenants and their health.

Emergency housing

House prices are putting additional pressures on our poorest families. It is part of the reason why we have seen greater demand for emergency housing over the last year.

So, I’d like to talk a bit about emergency housing

When I talk about emergency housing, I’m talking about support for individuals and families who, for any number of reasons, have nowhere else to live. There have always been people in this situation in our society and there always will be.

Our focus is of course on delivering safe, warm, permanent housing, but we must respond to any need for short-term accommodation for people in unexpected, difficult circumstances.

The people and organisations in this room are helping us support these people in their time of need.

And I can assure you this Government is doing something about it.

Emergency housing – what we have done already

As I said earlier, this isn’t just about providing houses – it is about supporting people. The $41 million I announced in the Budget to fund emergency places has so far delivered more than 3000 places a year and we are looking at even more.

That Budget funding also provides for the new non-recoverable Special Needs Grant, which meets the costs of emergency housing for people unable to immediately access a contracted place. Work and Income has made hundreds of grants since they were introduced.

You will have heard about the $9 million we are putting into two innovative ideas that will help community organisations help people into housing and sustain their tenancies.

You will be familiar with Housing First, which works with the chronic homeless. It is operating successfully in Hamilton and we are trialling this approach in Auckland. If it helps get people into housing and keep them there, which I am optimistic it will, it is a model we can roll out across the country.

We have also put money towards helping those people whose tenancies are balanced on a knife-edge because of other issues – anti-social behaviour, severe arrears, problems that would otherwise see them evicted from their homes. We are saying to community providers – help give these people a second chance.

Over the coming months, we will deliver even more emergency and medium-term housing places over and above the more than 3000 places funded in the Budget.

We’ll be pulling a number of levers. They include buying motels, leasing suitable houses, and building new ones.

There are pockets of land the Government has reserved for schools, hospitals and transport to be built on over the next 10 to 20 years that are sitting empty now – so we will be putting modular housing and fast ‘stick builds’ on these sites to meet the current, temporary need.

Modular housing is a fantastic solution to getting more housing, getting it fast, and getting it at a reasonable price. Simply put, we will get more bang for our buck, and faster, with modular housing.

So far I have three sites in Auckland that will support more than 100 modular homes for emergency and medium-term housing. We have other suitable sites and this work will continue.

An example of using vacant Crown land for housing is the Education site in Luke St in Otahuhu, Auckland. It is not needed by Education for a number of years so has leased it to HNZ.

I am pleased to announce today that a fast ‘stick build’ will begin next month on a 51-home development at the site to house families on the social housing register.

The Luke Street development will have 27 two-bedroom, seven three-bedroom and 17 four-bedroom homes. Once complete, the development will provide temporary homes to up to 250 people at any one time. This translates to hundreds more places each year. We expect families to move in by the end of February next year.

There will be an on-site manager providing support and services to the tenants.

And this is where community providers come in. I am calling today for them to put their hands up to manage tenants at developments such as Luke St.

The Government can offer its support, expertise and resources, but as I said, community providers are the people who know their communities best.

I welcome your involvement and encourage you in the work you are doing already. Let’s work together to help our vulnerable people into safe, warm and stable homes, and keep them there.

Thank you.


Here is Community Housing Aotearoa’s press release on this announcement.

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