Greens policy to increase state house building
Moving people living in their cars and on the streets into homes is the centre of a new Green Party policy targeting state houses.
Co-leader Metiria Turei launched the policy in Auckland this morning, which would see 450 new state homes built, but the Government says existing work will build more than that.
Under the Homes Not Cars plan, Housing New Zealand would keep its dividend and have its tax refunded -- money which would otherwise go back to the Government -- freeing up $207 million in the next financial year for house building.
Ms Turei says it is an urgent response a "housing emergency" the Government lacks the political will to fix.
"This plan isn't the silver bullet for our housing emergency, it's just the start, but the bottom line is we need the Government to build more state houses, not sell them off, or pretend the problem doesn't exist," she says.
"It's shameful that in a wealthy country like New Zealand we have so many people sleeping in cars, in garages and on the streets."
Solo mother-of-three Rhiannon, who was at the announcement, said life had been hard since she'd been made redundant two years ago and her relationship ended.
"I've never had problems renting houses before. The house I was renting has been sold and we were evicted in March and we've been literally looking and trying as hard as I can to find a house to rent and I'm facing so much discrimination from agents and landlords.
"As soon as you tell them you're a sole parent with three children or on a Work and Income benefit they are not interested in you in this kind of competitive market," she says.
Her youngest daughter Emma has recently spent time in Starship Hospital with a lung disease. She needs six medications which need to be refrigerated, is on a feeding pump overnight.
"I have slept in a car and I can sleep in a car, but I can't take Emma there because that means she misses out on her feeds and things if I'm not with her."
The issue of families forced to live in their cars or rent our garages was highlighted in a story by The Nation at the weekend.
Ms Turei says the Government has everything it needs to solve the problem.
"Housing is core infrastructure in this country; you cannot have a decent society if you don't have decent housing for all families who need it.
"It's ludicrous that we have around 4500 people on the Housing New Zealand waiting list but Housing New Zealand is forced to prioritise paying the Government millions of dollars in dividend and tax."
The announcement was made deliberately ahead of next week's Budget in an attempt to put pressure on the Government to act, Ms Turei says.
"This is a direct challenge to National to take action."
The party estimates the peripheral benefits will include around 1400 jobs based on Westpac's 2015 estimates of labour need to increase Auckland housing supply.
She says people and families living in cars and garages is not the country most New Zealanders "recognise or want".
Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English and Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett say the Government's existing work will build more houses than the Greens' "rushed" policy.
Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English (Simon Wong / Newshub.)
Mr English says Housing New Zealand has 924 homes contracted or under construction, including 589 properties in Auckland expected this year. Another 55 are under negotiation.
The corporation has also identified the possibility for building another1319 nationwide, and its programme to rebuild 700 quake-hit state houses in Canterbury is almost done.
Mr English says the Government is in the same boat as any other developer -- they "can only go as fast as the current local planning rules allow".
The ministers say the Greens' plan doesn't add up.
"The Greens' policy is a slogan, not a plan," Ms Bennett says.
"We're already building more than they propose, and they haven't put aside funding to actually put people in those houses.
"The Greens oppose Housing New Zealand moving tenants out of old homes to put more properties on large, underused sections. Without using existing land, it's not clear how they would build properties in Auckland within their budgeted figure, when it costs Housing New Zealand significantly more."
The party also wants Work and Income to wipe all debt owed by families who were forced to borrow from them for emergency accommodation.
The Government says it'll give a week of temporary accommodation before families need to pay Work and Income back.
Ms Turei believes families shouldn't have to pay the money back until they've found a place to live.
"For as long as WINZ and Housing New Zealand fails to house these families, they should be bearing the financial burden and Government needs to make sure beneficiaries do not have to continue to pay for very expensive motels because that is the only option provided by Housing New Zealand."