State housing (houses owned or managed by the government through Housing NZ) is only a small and declining part of the housing market yet the need is huge. There are around 1.6 million households in New Zealand and just over 4% of those households are living in state housing.

The Government is working through a major programme of social housing reform that includes a change in the way state housing is understood. The state-owned Housing NZ is being changed into a “social housing provider” along with other registered social housing providers such as community housing providers that also now  have access to income-related rent subsidies for their tenants.

There are currently 5,800 people on waiting lists for social housing, more than half of them are considered ‘at risk’ and include households with a severe and persistent housing need that must be addressed immediately”. The Ministry of Social Development took over from HNZ responsibility for all social housing assessments on 14th April 2014 (view the MSD waiting list for social housing).

The proportion of Housing NZ Corporation and other social (or state) housing has dropped and remained low since the 1990s. Since 1986 the number of private rental households has more than doubled to 355,000 at the 2013 Census. In the same time the number of HNZ housing households declined from just over 90,000 to less than 70,000. This means that social housing has declined from being around 37% of the rental market 27 years ago to less than half that at 18% in 2013. Even the additional investment in social housing by the Labour-led government failed to halt this downward trend in the five years between 2001 – 2006 census. For more facts and figures on housing read the 2013 Statistics NZ QuickStats about housing.

In 2007 it was estimated that NZ will need 50,000 new affordable and social houses over the next 15 years (2022), half of these will be in Auckland. The Salvation Army report Rebuilding the Kiwi Dream calculated that over the 15 years between 21,000 – 31,000 new houses would need to be built each year to meet projected population growth and housing need. Of these new houses, 20% would need to be affordable or social housing, a minimum of 3,500 houses at $200,000, an annual investment in new housing required by Government of $700 million.

In actual fact, since 2007 the stock of HNZ housing has remained static at around 69,000 and the current HNZ plans do not plan to increase that number significantly. At the same time the community housing sector has grown by a few hundred units, including those funded through the Social Housing Unit, but clearly this in no way approaches the 3,500 per estimated need. The gap between need and supply of social housing is growing.

The current National Government housing policy is based on some of the findings of Home and Housed: a vision for social housing in New Zealand, the report of the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group that was convened in 2010. The government has however made it clear that it does not intend to increase the number of state houses, so any increases need to come via the non-government social housing sector. The government aims to increase non-government social housing up to 20% of all social housing. Some of this increase could be through transfer of HNZ housing to non-government social housing providers and Treasury has created an Establishment Unit to plan how to do this.