NZ’s social housing register has quadrupled in size since 2017 and big changes to mindsets over house building and housing affordability are needed, writes Vic Crockford  |  Partnership Content

The past two years have reinforced how important our homes are to our health and that those without permanent, safe and healthy places to live are more likely to bear the brunt of crisis.

The past two years have also highlighted how quickly and brutally the wealth gap can grow – and that without specific intervention is only going to grow. This is especially true when it comes to our homes. Enough ink has been spilt on house prices.

I want to spill some on the true cost of our housing status quo: the continual tearing at our social fabric.

Many New Zealanders know how precarious and difficult the private rental market can be. Many have and are experiencing it for themselves right now.

Not many New Zealanders realise how tightly connected this is with our ever-growing social housing register and the growth in the need for transitional housing.

In recent years, official figures have shown that around two thirds of people in transitional housing are there because they have fallen out of the private rental market, unable to continue meeting ever-increasing rents while dealing with the impacts of the pandemic.

These are often double income households. Even when putting rent before food, which so many people are having to do, they can’t make it work. And so the need for transitional housing grows. What is meant to be temporary for those who need a supportive interim solution becomes a two or three year situation and rootlessness sets in.

The social housing register has quadrupled in size since 2017, to nearly 27,000 households, and the fabric tears a bit more.

How did we get here?

A recipe for an affordable housing crisis

Over many decades, direct investment in both state run public housing and not-for-profit community housing of the like delivered by the housing providers I work for has been eroded at the same time as private rental and home ownership prices have soared.

It has been a recipe for an affordable housing crisis, especially for people on lower incomes and including – distressingly – a growing number of our older people. Our Nans and Pops, kaumatua and kuia are increasingly experiencing homelessness as we simply do not have enough one and two bedroom, accessible homes that they can afford. Despite a lifetime of giving to our society, we cannot offer them a place to call home.

We need pathways into affordable homes

To create a way out out of this growing housing insecurity and homelessness we need a way into into affordable, quality homes that will remain affordable for generations.

Shifting mindsets from valuing individual return on investment to valuing intergenerational social return on investment is not an easy thing to do, but we can do it in the same we we have come to value other public goods.

It means seeing affordable homes as essential infrastructure for thriving communities and taking a long-term, well-connected view of how we’re funding them and how we’re ensuring they stay affordable. Just as we plan for hospitals, schools, libraries, parks and museums when we develop and redevelop communities, we should be planning and provisioning for affordable homes.

To achieve this, we need to work together – government, Councils, the construction sector, the finance sector, iwi and Māori and, critically, the community housing sector.

The community housing sector plays a critical role

The community housing providers I support provide homes for over 18,000 households delivering a range of options to meet a range of needs. They develop and manage options for both affordable housing, like income-based affordable rentals and rent-to-buy, and social housing, with wrap-around support for those who need it.

They work on the frontline of the affordable housing crisis in every region of Aotearoa/New Zealand and they hold many solutions to it. Not-for-profit and connected to the specific needs of their local communities – community housing providers are in it for the long-haul. They are essential to the types of place-based solutions that create thriving communities.

Providers like Community of Refuge Trust in Auckland, an award winning developer with a 35-year history of providing high quality housing alongside strong partnerships with support providers. And it is currently developing seven sites across Auckland as part of an innovative joint-venture funding model.

Or Te Ahuru Mowai, which is regenerating housing in Porirua with a focus on warmth, safety and beautiful communities as they fulfil their mandate to see all people living on Ngāti Toa whenua well-housed. Or the Queenstown Lakes Community Housing Trust, which has been a pioneer of progressive home ownership opportunities with its leasehold model.

Long term, sustainable funding means more delivery for communities

Like anyone trying to build housing right now, community housing providers are up against inflation and supply chain disruption, as well as an ever-growing demand from people needing a place to call home.

Despite that, the sector still continues to deliver: 33 homes in Ōtautahi/Christchurch opened just last week thanks to the Ōtautahu Community Housing Trust, with another 42 homes ready for older people and those with disabilities opening in Tauranga this week thanks to the Tauranga Community Housing Trust.

With sustainable, long-term funding options and settings in place, these gains could be expanded in every region. This means some baseline, long-term policy settings that governments of all stripes can and should commit to. It means long-term commitments from a range of funders that recognise affordable homes as essential infrastructure for all communities. It means fronting up to the impacts of colonisation and racism in previous approaches to housing, including the barriers created by many banks’ reluctance to lend against multiply-held titles – a really big issue for those wanting to build homes on whenua Māori. It means trusting the community to deliver the outcomes needed, based on their deep understanding of the people they serve.

We build our lives around our homes – the very fabric of our society is relying upon this kind of change and the community housing sector is ready and willing to play a leading role.

This is the first of a series of Partnership Content articles with Community Housing Aotearoa

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