Tuesday, September 04, 2012

CERA's response to the Christchurch housing crisis: Nothing

Earlier in the year, the media reported a severe housing crisis in Christchurch. The earthquake had destroyed and damaged homes, and the resulting shortage - and outright profiteering from landlords expecting an influx of construction workers - had pushed up rents. As a result, people were squatting or sleeping in cars. So what was CERA doing about it? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask for their advice. After some dicking around over semantics - CERA apparently refusing a request because it referred to a "crisis", which was not on their list of acceptable words - they finally got a response. And reading through it, it turns out that the answer is "nothing".

oh, they spend a lot of time - and a lot of briefing papers - to say it. But as explained in the briefing on Rebuild Workforce and Displaced Resident Accommodation [PDF], the core of their response is to

  • Provide information on the emerging opportunities for workforce and displaced resident housing
  • Connect parties with common interests
  • Support utilisation of existing 'spare' capacity through boarding arrangements
  • Encourage rental property investors and managers to take a more flexible approach to tenant selection and management practices through the rebuild
  • Encourage practices that will minimise the peak in housing demand.
Information, support, and encouragement is bureaucratese for "squat". It means sitting back and leaving it to the market - which is manifestly failing and leaving people in need. And they make this explicit:
Messages to be delivered through such engagement would also reaffirm that the Government does not intend to crowd out private sector initiative through the direct provision of housing
In other words, faced with a national disaster, the government's policy is not to ensure that everyone in need has a roof over their heads, but instead to abandon them to the profiteers. Its a fine example of National's policy priorities, its privileging of wealth over need. And the consequences of that policy can be seen in Christchurch's winter 'flu epidemic.

This falls well below what we expect of government, especially in the wake of a disaster. If the market fails like this, it is government's job to step in and fix it, not stand idly by. CERA should be acquiring land, building houses, and making sure that everyone has a roof over their heads. If the private sector is profiteering off disaster victims, they should be crowded out. Failing to do these things is simply wrong, and the government should be held accountable for its inaction at the next election.