Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How long should tennants stay in State Houses?

The possible sale of a $1.3 million State House in Auckland raises the question of a person’s right to tenant, long term, a home owned by the State. The original intention was to give a helping hand to a section of the community that found the cost of housing beyond their means. If that was still the definition, then we would need a great deal more State Housing.
It appears that our State Housing stock is actually heading in the other direction, so one of our most basic needs is receding even further for a segment of our population, especially in the big cities and some poorer rural areas.
How then can the State support those most in need? For those who have lived in State Houses all of their lives, there may well be an ingrained belief that the home they reside in is actually almost their own. Challenging that stance will be difficult. Governments have tried various schemes to encourage tenants to either move on or buy into the homes they live in, sometimes with quite generous incentives, yet most, when offered do not take up the opportunity. There may be quite valid reasons for this, including not being able to meet the ‘extra costs but the result has been the same. Most State House tenants tend to stay put.
There are a few options available to Housing New Zealand. Firstly, they should encourage those on reasonable incomes to move into the private sector. This has happened and there are top-up schemes to enable tenants to meet private sector rentals. There are also means whereby tenants can own a ‘portion’ of a State house, thereby giving them a stake on the ownership ladder. Once again, there has been a tiny take-up of this offer.
For those already in the private sector, either renting or paying off their homes, looking at some of the situations for Sate House tenants abusing  the system, may well bring quite strong feelings. If for example a State House tenant is ‘double dipping,’ as reported by the NZ Herald today, then they have every reason to vent their frustration.
There is also the question of tenants living in homes that have a high commercial value. Is it not expedient and responsible on Housing NZ’ s part to sell those houses and then use the income build several new homes to increase the housing stock? I have heard the argument many times, that this disrupts family stability. My reply is that for most of us, moving homes for economic or other reasons is just a fact of life. The former argument about stability for the family does not hold water when so many in the private sector (the majority) move quite regularly. They cope, so why not their counterparts in Sate Housing?
The bottom line is that housing is a basic need, and as long as access is increased for those who are not currently housed, then the methodology, be it through private initiatives, state top—ups or State Housing, is fine by me. I know rents are prohibitive and for that reason, the State must stay involved in meeting this most basic of needs. It just needs a bit of tweaking and some extra resources to meet that need and a variety of ‘delivery mechanisms’ applied.
We need to have a discussion about housing needs and ways to have all of our people in healthy, warm homes. The payoff is that we will all benefit, so all possibilities dhousld be considered.

Update---Hell, today the Herald said that some people are paying $50 a week rent for million dollar houses. OK, I know that they may well have a low income, but how many of us could have that luxury. I know there are people out there on minimum wages who have to pay market rents for crap  leaky cold houses. Where's the justice?
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