Monday, June 27, 2011

Gutting the state housing system

One of the reasons the New Zealand public have such a dim view of politicians is because they have shown time and again that they are cheats and liars. They set themselves performance targets (whether explicit or implicit) in opposition, then juke the stats and distort the facts in government so they can claim they met them. National did it back in 1990 with its promise to remove student fees (they didn't; they simply devolved responsibility for charging them to the universities), and Labour did it with hospital waiting lists in the 2000s (by the simple expedient of throwing people off and making them wait again - "solving" the problem in the statistics, but not in reality). And now National looks set to repeat the latter trick with state housing. Faced with growing waiting lists for state houses, despite their attempts to discourage people from applying, they are going to just chuck people off the list and forbid them to reapply rather than do anything to deal with the housing crisis.

It is cynical. It is unethical. But its what politicians will do to avoid a bad headline. Which is why people think they're scum. Anyone who thinks their reputation and/or re-election is worth more than the housing prospects of 4,700 needy families is either a colossal egotist or has a black hole for a heart (and probably both).

National is of course trying to downplay the status of those it is going to abandon. But Housing NZ's own assessment categories [DOC] make it clear that they will be denying help to those who need it. This is what they call "moderate need":

The household is disadvantaged, and this is likely to compound over time due to housing circumstances that are unsuitable, inadequate or unsustainable. The household is unlikely to be able to access or afford suitable, adequate and sustainable housing without state intervention.
Under National, these people will not even be allowed to apply for a state house. They will be left to the market, which Housing New Zealand has said will not provide for them. As for the state housing system, it will become a system for emergency accommodation for the truly desperate only, people who are actually homeless or living in garages. These people should obviously be the priority, since their need is greater - but the system should provide for more than that. And its here that National's true goal becomes apparent: they're planning to effectively gut the state housing system and reduce it to a rump. And having "reduced" demand (by defining it out of existence and making it someone else's problem), they're promising to privatise the "surplus" state houses, while removing income-related rents for the remainder if re-elected.

This is an outright abandonment of a core government responsibility. But National isn't interested in a government that meets its social obligations - instead, they want more profit opportunities for private landlords. Those profit opportunities will come at the cost of homelessness and overcrowding, with all the consequent health and educational problems and misery, just as it did in the 90's - but National don't care. Their mates will be making money. And that is all they really care about.