'We're going to put the state back in state housing'

Housing New Zealand flats in Arch Hill: Housing Minister Phil Twyford is promising the biggest overhaul of housing policy since the first Labour Government. Photo by Lynn Grieveson

Housing Minister Phil Twyford has given his most detailed comments yet on how the new Government plans to build more state houses and give more responsibility back to Housing New Zealand Corp.

Twyford gave his first major speech as Housing Minister at a Salvation Army event in Auckland and announced that Housing New Zealand was looking at becoming a tenant manager again. The last Government shifted tenant management out of Housing New Zealand and shifted it to the Ministry of Social Development, starting in 2014. See detail on that here.

Twyford opened the speech by saying the housing crisis was unacceptable and that the reassertion of the role of state housing was central to the new Government's agenda to solving the housing crisis.

"We are going to put the state back into state housing," Twyford said.

"Our Government rejects the view that state housing is a redundant idea from the 1930s and that modernisation means selling off the houses and getting charities and the private sector to do this work instead," he said.

Twyford restated the Government's policy of recycling dividends from Housing New Zealand into building new homes and upgrading existing ones.

"We will stop the mass sell-off of state housing, and as part of our first 100 Days, the Prime Minister will have more to say on this shortly," he said.

Twyford said he wanted Housing New Zealand to be a world class public housing landlord that played a pastoral care role to help tenants sustain their tenancies.

"Housing New Zealand are up for this challenge, and we are working together on how to make it happen," he said.

"I have started a conversation with Housing New Zealand on how we can build back the tenancy management, giving better face to face engagement with tenants based on an ongoing relationship."

Twyford said he favoured a more accommodating approach to state house tenants owning pets.

"Given how important pets can be to people’s quality of life I favour a more accommodating approach that allows tenants to own pets – as long as they are properly looked after, not a nuisance or a danger to neighbours, and not damaging property," he said.

Twyford said he was also committed to working with Community Housing Providers. The previous Government aimed to shift many state house tenants into homes owned or managed by non-Government Community Housing Providers.

"I have never accepted there is a contradiction between a strong Government provider and a vibrant and growing community sector," he said.

"I want to re-iterate my commitment to sit down with Community Housing Aotearoa and negotiate a multi-year plan for how we can work together to grow the sector in a way that is both ambitious and sustainable.

"My vision is not for some quasi-market where community housing organisations are competing for subsidies, but instead a community of housing providers and advocates working in partnership with Government, and where we can all benefit from the innovation and diversity the community sector brings."

Twyford said he was encouraged by the early signs from agencies working on the Housing First strategy for dealing with homelessness, which is the practice of putting homeless people into their own home before sorting out any other social or personal issues.

He said the Government remained committed to developing a New Zealand strategy to end homelessness.

He also recommitted the Government to building 100,000 affordable homes over 10 years, including half of them in Auckland. He said the new Government was also on track towards setting up a Housing Commission, which would be a national urban development authority to lead the creation of large scale projects "to build whole communities, with the jobs, and transport infrastructure and open spaces and amenities that communities need."

"These communities will have a mix of state and community housing, affordable Kiwibuild homes for first home buyers, and open market homes," he said.

"One of the big differences between our Government and the last is that we are going to build affordable homes, and public housing, wherever we possibly can. Because if we don’t, who will?"

He also reiterated the Government's plans to ban foreigners from buying existing homes, extending the two year bright line test to five years and stopping negative gearing by landlords.

He also detailed a plan to review the Residential Tenancies Act to deliver more security of tenure for renters.

"Because well over a third of us are renting these days we cannot continue with the current outdated law," he said.

'Savage's state house programme an inspiration'

Twyford said he took inspiration from the first Labour Government led by Michael Joseph Savage, which started the first state house building programme soon after it was elected in 1935, and continued after the second world war.

"I draw my inspiration from the first Labour Government who came to office after the Depression and war determined to use the power of the state for good," he said.

"To intervene where necessary to make the system work for working people. They redefined the role of Government. They made things happen by sheer force of will, and they built a lot of bloody houses."

He said the sixth Labour Government planned the biggest overhaul of housing policy since the first Labour Government.

"It redefines the role of the state, and gets it back into the business of mass home building. It will tame the out of control speculation that has been so destructive, and modernise rental laws. In building 100,000 houses, re-inventing state housing, and building dozens of thriving modern communities around New Zealand, it will change the face of our towns and cities.

"Modern governments spend so much time dealing with social problems that are in large part caused or made worse by the poverty and lack of hope and distress associated with insecure housing and insecure work.

"If we can restore universal access to secure, warm and dry and affordable housing for all New Zealanders, we will make this country even better than it is."