Housing and Housing affordability
"Safe and secure housing that is sustainable and affordable."
The Councils National Taskforce on Housing and Housing Affordability is Chaird by Ngaio Te Ua.
One of the biggest challenges our people face is the ability to not only own their home but to afford to live in one. At the first Hui of New Zealand Maori Council a sub-committee was formed in relation to the question of housing and housing affordability. This was done in part to push forward on the social policy agenda and in part responding to the needs of our people through the feedback across our Maori Committees and Districts. Many of our people felt that they were increasingly being locked out of the home ownership market and when it comes to the rental sector the increasing reality of market rents and low wage growth meant that many of our people could no longer afford to live in many of our urban centers. When it comes to access to ownership our discussion led to a range of recommendations being made including the establishment of Maori Bank. The very notion of a Maori Bank goes back more than a hundred years but in the present the discussion revolved around access to finance and loans – in other words the ability to secure a mortgage. As lending conditions tighten and things such as credit reports and rankings were being enforce it became harder to access a loan. It was not a case of should we or shouldn’t we establish a Maori owned, governed or operated bank – the question was what prohibits us.
The second important realization is that even though our major banks are able to lend to Maori to build on Maori land the reality in practice can be altogether different. For example, the risk profile in lending is increased due to the multiplicity of ownership. For example; fifty years ago there may have been a single owner of a block land. That person had four children. The land was then divided into four shares. Each of those people then passed away and each of them had three children. The land is then divided by a further twelve and so on and so on. Today it is not unusual for many parcels of Maori land to be owned by dozens and hundreds of small parcel land holders. From a banks perspective it becomes much more riskier to lend to a group of ten, twenty or even a hundred – if the loan is defaulted on then who is ultimately responsible for repayment? What assets might be put up and so on.
The rental market is also a challenge. The reality is that market rents are going up and rental supply is tight in many of our large urban areas. The stock of State housing is not keep up with demand nor is wage growth keeping pace with the cost of living. As market rents increase more and more of our people are coming under financial strain and pressure – evidence of this can be seen in the increase of the Governments accommodation supplement. This is one of the leading causes of homelessness which, in itself is partial myth. Many New Zealanders would think that it homeless people are unemployed and yet a large number are actually employed – they are our working poor. Also It is important to understand that homelessness is not just a challenge in our cities – its very much a regional issue in part to do with the increase in rents but also housing supply versus demand. On the one hand its about people who still live in communities being pushed out and then there is an increasing trend of our whanau returning to communities because of the affordability factors in the cities.
So the question becomes what more do we need to do when it comes to the challenge of housing and housing affordability in the context of Maori Council. The following are some positions we might take, advocacy we might want to look out and policies we might want to develop:
First of all we need to get an actual figure of the current stock available or near available in terms of housing – there is no real figure on the occupancy rate within the State housing stock and no real handle over when accommodation will become available as a result of maintenance and renovation. So; an audit of what we have and where it is and when it might be available – we need to plan more effectively
We need to address the market rent affordability question. In part this can probably only be done by introducing more stock or supply – so what do we need to do to cut further red tape around development and construction applications. At the same time we need to have an honest conversation about what makes for a living wage in pace with the rising cost of living. The reality for many of our people is that they are generally in the low wage growth part of the economy – so costs go up but wages across the board are not keeping up.
When it comes to home ownership we need to start bringing down regulatory red tape and burden. We need to look at credit reporting and financial lending legislation – they are not working for the vast majority of New Zealanders let alone Maori
We need to ensure that Maori have a seat at the table in the co-design of what all of these programs look like. Yes we support an urban housing taskforce but we also support a regional one. The two are not the same – what happens in our regions is not always the same as what happens in the cities and vice versa
But we also need clarity over who in Government is actually responsible for what. There are a multitude of Ministers involved and engaged in the housing portfolio. The experience in Kaikoura is not all of them know who is responsible for what. Who makes the decisions? Who considers the proposals? Who is developing the policies and leading the way forward? This filters down to the bureaucracy as is evidenced by one individual in need of temporary accommodation who ended up being lost to the system in a different part of the country …
In order to address the housing crisis the silos we sometimes create with good intentions need to come down.