Monday, September 15, 2003

A compelling argument for state housing

One News on friday or saturday had the story of a family who were living in a caravan after moving from Northland to Auckland in search of work - and paying $230 a week for the privilege. They'd been living like that for over six months, most of their money going on substandard accomodation due to a lack of affordable housing.

This both provides a compelling argument for state provision of low-cost housing and highlights the flaws in the government's "jobs jolt" programme.

On the housing front, no decent society should allow its members to live like this - it's as simple as that. We have a moral imperitive to ensure that everyone has a decent roof over their heads. The market works fine for most people, but for those at the bottom end - those without the savings to even pay bond on a flat, let alone make the downpayment on a house of their own - the State needs to intervene. This means building houses, and providing them at low cost to the people who need them. Yes, this distorts the rental housing market (in particular by letting the government effectively set rents at the low end), but I'm not that hung up on market purity - especially when the cost of purity is people living in caravans.

As for the "jobs jolt", there's absolutely no point forcing people to move from somewhere they can afford to live to somewhere they can't, unless a) there is a guaranteed job waiting at the other end, and b) moving to that job will actually make them better off. WINZ isn't willing to deal with either of these problems, and so is going to end up condemning people to working destitution rather than simple unemployed poverty. As someone interested in human welfare (as opposed to market purity), this is simply obscene.