State housing: National's Nicola Willis heaps blame on Govt for ballooning state housing waitlist, sky-high wait times

The number of people in need of state housing has increased tenfold in the past two years, a Newshub investigation has found - and the Opposition's housing spokesperson, Nicola Willis, says the Government is to blame. 

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday morning, Willis was quick to point the finger at Labour for New Zealand's ongoing housing challenges. 

On Sunday, Newshub exclusively revealed that 198 people are in dire need of state housing - but the waitlist is more than six months long. 

A detailed breakdown of the priority ratings spanning the 23,000 people on the state housing waitlist shows it's currently taking more than six months to house the 1 percent of New Zealanders deemed the most at risk.

Willis says the Government only has itself to blame for its inability to keep up with the demand for state homes. 

"This was a Government that was elected on a promise to solve New Zealand's housing challenges and these figures show they've simply got a lot worse. They've got to take responsibility," she said. 

"You can judge a Government not only by how many needy people it helps, but how many vulnerable people it creates. What we've seen under Labour is thousands more people squeezed out of the private rental market with average rents going up around $100 a week, and those people are ending up having to line up at MSD [the Ministry of Social Development] and ask for a state house - and the Government just can't keep up with that demand."

Newshub also revealed that the number of people in the A20 category - the most vulnerable and highest priority New Zealanders on the state housing waitlist - has ballooned in recent years. In March 2018, shortly after Labour took Government, the ranking was empty - but in 2019, 21 people were categorised as A20. In 2020, that number rose to 87. Now, it's more than doubled from last year - and there are 198 people in the most desperate need of housing.

Willis believes the failures of successive Governments have also contributed to New Zealand's chronic housing shortage, particularly following the implementation of the controversial Resource Management Act (RMA) in 1991. 

"Our housing challenges have built up over successive Governments. If you look back on the graph to when it all started going very badly wrong, it was around about 1991 - when the [RMA] came in. It's good we're going to scrap it, it needs to be replaced - it's stopped houses being built," Willis told The AM Show on Monday morning. 

The National Party is calling for an emergency bill with urgent measures to be implemented while the Government works to reform the RMA - legislation that has been blamed for holding back the development of new housing due to its complexity and convoluted regulations. In July last year, an independent review panel recommended repealing it and starting from scratch.

The draft Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) is the primary replacement for the RMA. The Government plans to replace the legislation with three new laws this parliamentary term, however, the overall process is years in the making. 

Nicola Willis.
Nicola Willis. Photo credit: Newshub

"We've been building houses, but when you compare it on a per-population basis, we were building a lot more in the '70s, and we're going to need to build a lot more to catch up with huge demand," Willis said.

She added that if National took the reins and rose to power, it would stick to Labour's targets - including the construction of 18,000 state homes - but would broaden its reach to reach those goals. 

"Around the country we've got community housing providers like Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army - and they're saying to me, 'we've got land, we've got capacity, we want to build - give us access to some of the Government's finances," Willis continued.

"We actually like the private sector, we like community housing providers - we don't think the Government can do it all by itself."

Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams told Newshub on Sunday the Government is encouraging those in need to come forward. 

"It is our responsibility to address this. I grant you that," she said. 

In March 2018, it took, on average, a week to find a home for New Zealand's most vulnerable. In March the following year, there were no delays - homes were immediately available. But now, it's taking 207 days to find available housing - more than six months.

Williams could not provide a timeline for when wait times will begin to decrease.

"I can't give you that figure - all I can say is that our build will go a long way to reducing that."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has frequently claimed her Government "inherited" the housing crisis from the Opposition, arguing the challenges were "decades in the making" due to the National Government selling off state homes.

Since Labour came to power in late 2017, the Government agency Kāinga Ora has sold off 191 state houses, but built far more. Comparatively, National sold 1300 state homes during its 2014-2017 tenure. 

"The previous Government left us with a chronic shortage of houses and were selling off state houses that people desperately needed," Ardern said in February last year.  

Housing Minister Megan Woods has echoed that sentiment, claiming the current crisis follows decades of "insufficient new housing stock" and the "selling of thousands of state homes" by the previous National Government.

Speaking to Newshub in February, Woods said Labour has "made a commitment" to stop the "mass sale" of state houses.