Tim Dower: Housing New Zealand's the problem

TIm Dower,
Publish Date
Thursday, 2 July 2015, 11:53AM
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Government's under fire again over this intense and burning desire it has, to sell off state housing.

The new social housing legislation is now on the table, and as you've heard Labour's worried there'll be mass sales of state houses. The party is struggling to see the sense of flogging off property to the Ockers en masse.

Paula Bennett says the law change won't give ministers carte blanche, but I'm not sure I believe her. I'm not sure I want to believe she's the chosen one to take over when John Key goes either - but hey, let's stay on track.

Forgive me for saying this, but aren't we currently in a bit of a spot with housing?

Is there not an acknowledged shortage of homes, especially in Auckland and Christchurch?

Are there not homes in some areas with two and three families crammed in? People living in garages, sleepouts, cars even? People with nowhere at all they can call home?

At the same time, Housing New Zealand has unoccupied property - homes shuttered up and left to be trashed by the weather, vermin and vandals.

Seems to me the problem with state housing isn't state housing per se. It's the state housing provider. To be crystal clear about what I mean Housing New Zealand is a crappy landlord. It's far too big, unwieldy, impersonal and plain incompetent.

Bill English sees this, hence the idea of breaking up the portfolio and getting someone else - anyone else - to run it.

Like it or not, New Zealand needs a social housing sector. You could see it as an add-on to the benefits system. Not to everyone's taste, but an absolute necessity in any half decent society.

But it has to be run efficiently. Properties need to be maintained to a decent standard and I'm afraid that does mean investment. Tenants have to be looked after but also managed firmly.

Pay the rent. Keep the place clean and tidy. No drugs. Respect your neighbours. Or clear off. And when the kids have flown the nest it is time to move on and make space for someone whose need is greater.

Many of us have rental properties, and because we're in it for the long term those homes are mostly well cared for. But when you're a vast operation like Housing New Zealand and remote from the people you're dealing with it's not just unwieldy or unmanageable, it's chaotic.

Housing New Zealand is obviously the problem, but is some outfit from Australia the answer? I don't think so.


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