CHA-IMACT conference

The 2017 Community Housing Aotearoa IMPACT conference was the biggest yet for the sector that is leading much of the change happening in social housing.There were around 300 people at Te Papa in Wellington and the atmosphere was vibrant and full of ideas for building homes and communities. This reflects the reality of a near doubling in size for the sector in the past two years.

Wellbeing, whānau and human rights

Hurimoana Nui Dennis, Te Puea Memorial Marae (photo credit: Liana Pantaleo, Scoop)

The conference opening session set the tone for the conference as the keynote speakers Girol Karacaoglu, David Rutherford and Hurimoana Dennis focused on the human and people-centred aspects of housing. Head of Victoria University School of Government Girol Karacaoglu used his extensive knowledge of public policy and government to emphasise the importance on focusing on wellbeing for everyone and designing all policy to achieve this and to recognise the interconnection between housing and other parts of wellbeing.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford focused on the commitment to housing as a human right in his address. He emphasised that over and over again, successive New Zealand government’s have made promises to the international community to uphold the right to housing. But once back home in New Zealand, these commitments to adequate housing for all continue to go unfilled. He called for a New Zealand Homes Accord that all politicians should agree to based on the United Nations Right to Housing.

…ahakoa te aha, mahingia te mahi…

…it does not matter how big or challenging the task, get on and do what needs to be done…)

Hurimoana Denis reflected on what he and his community learned as a result of opening the doors of Te Puea Marae to more than a hundred homeless families during the winter of 2016. He said how appalled he was at the way many of the people who came to the marae had been treated by the government agencies that were supposed to there to help them. This lack of responsiveness compounds the problems of lack of income, over-crowding and evictions that the people in his community are facing. He celebrated the way the marae and local community did come together to help and how they were able to help into housing over 130 of the more than 180 whānau that came to the marae.

The Politics of Housing

The politics of housing took centre stage on the first day of the conference featuring opening addresses from the Associate Minister for Housing, Hon Alfred Ngaro and Wellington Mayor Justin Lester in the morning session, as well as a housing policy debate in the evening featuring representatives from political parties.

The were no new policy announcements from Minister Ngaro, who began his address with an apology for earlier comments about community organisations that criticise the government. He emphasised that he and the Government want to work together with the community sector and critique is welcome. He said that the current Government focus is on implementing the increase in emergency and transitional housing announced last year, including extending the Housing First model for dealing with homelessness. He reiterated the Government wishes to grow the social housing stock and partner with community housing organisations to achieve this. In response to questions from participants about housing affordability, he said that the increase in the Accommodation Supplement announced in the Budget was the Government’s response to the increased housing costs people face. Asked about shared equity and other assisted home ownership options, he responded that this remains a “conversation” at present. Similarly he could not give commitments around capital funding for housing but pointed to the Waimahia Inlet project as a model the Government likes.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester did bring something new and used his speech to announce a new scheme to offer inner city building owners 15 – 25 years leases if they will retrofit buildings requiring earthquake strengthening to add to the supply of affordable rental and social housing in the city. He also outlined the programme he is implementing through his Mayoral Taskforce on Housing. He reiterated the city’s commitment to increase the social housing stock in the capital by at least 750 over the coming years. His council is seeking to have a role in supporting affordable housing as well as social housing by leveraging off the housing accords signed with the Government and new rules to encourage density in appropriate areas of the city.

Political Panel  – Shifting the Dial on Housing

Panel of speakers (photo credit: Liana Pantaleo, Scoop)

The Wednesday evening Housing Policy political panel debate was a high quality exchange between representatives of the Labour, Greens, NZ First, United Future and TOP parties. The Māori Party and the National Party did not participate in the panel which also included input from four sector experts, Major Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army, housing researcher Professor Philppa Howden-Chapman, Hurimoana Denis from Te Puea Marae and Stephen Selwood, CEO of Infrastructure NZ.

The discussions on state and social housing, assisted ownership such as shared equity or rent-to-buy, the rules around renting and housing quality as well as the wider housing market issues showed that political parties are developing better policy to respond to concerns. There is strong alignment around the need to increase housing supply at the lower end of the market. Labour and Green Parties both have specific commitments for Government-led programmes to build more social and affordable housing. NZ First and United Future focused more on ideas for affordable home ownership, with NZ First proposing low interest loans for first-home buyers and United Future wanting to turn Working for Families payments into a lump-sum for a housing deposit. The TOP Party has a focus on rental law reform and changes to tax on housing.  Areas of greater alignment around rental reform, security of tenure and improving housing standards was also evident across the parties present. See full coverage of the debate on Election Year Housing debate

Presentations from other keynote speakers such as community housing leader from Australia Mike Myers and American homelessness expert Nan Roman and workshops are online on the CHA website