The Nation: Housing Panel

Published: Sat 17 Jun 2017 12:35 PM
On The Nation: Housing Panel
Consultant Peter Fa’afiu has challenged Pacific church leaders to contribute some of the money they bring in from tithes to NGOs working with the homeless, or allow some of the church’s assets to be used to help solve the problem.
Major Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army says the government has “absolutely not” done enough to deal with the housing and homelessness problem. He says Auckland needs another 500 social houses a year, and another 15,000 affordable houses, costing under $500,000.
Hurimoana Dennis, chair of Te Puea Marae says the homelessness problem is worse than a year ago, and could get still worse. He says the marae may have to open its doors again this winter, but he doesn’t want to ask people to volunteer when there are agencies out there getting paid to do that work and not doing it well.
Lisa Owen: Before the break we saw some shocking pictures from inside some of Auckland’s boarding houses, places you’d only live if you had no other option. So why are there no other options for these people? Well, joining me now are the chair of Te Puea Marae, Hurimoana Dennis; the Salvation Army’s Major Campbell Roberts; and Peter Fa’afiu, a partner at the Navigator Consultancy. Good morning to you all.
Campbell Roberts: Good morning.
Campbell, we saw before the break, Caitlin took us inside some of those houses, how common are they? Is this the exception, or are there plenty of them?
Roberts: Unfortunately, it is common. They’re not the exception. That’s obviously a really bad example of it, but there are many situations that people are in, which really, we’re just… you know, you’re horrified by what the situation is, but the inability to actually do something about it is what’s really stopping it, what’s really hurting, at the moment.
Hurimoana, have you seen some of these places yourself?
Hurimoana Dennis: Yeah, of course. Look, we had some of our whanau; we put them into lodges and boarding homes. We ended up pulling some of them out because of this sort of situation here, but there are a few of them that made themselves known to the marae, but we got a little bit smarter about who they were, what they were up to. But, yeah, it is pretty common, and we’re still getting people coming to the marae either looking for food, clothes or shelter. You know, we closed our doors last year in September, and yet they’re still coming, and now we’re dealing with homeless tourists. So, you know, nothing seems to have abated anywhere, but at a marae level, we’ll do what we can to try and help. But they are out there, Lisa.
I want to talk a bit about that soon, but Peter, why do you think–? I mean, what’s wrong with our system that these places are still able to operate and that as a society, this is allowed to happen?
Peter Fa’afiu: I think there were two important words in that piece. One was greed and the second was enforcement. So, I think that out of that whole formative piece, I think those are the two things that are lacking, and as the experts in that piece said, I mean, the enforcement, the laws are there, the regulations are there, but you’ve got in a situation where local authorities are either overwhelmed or struggling with the enforcement aspect of it, and then it’s simple greed as well. And it’s human nature that we have people in our society who are taken advantage of, of people’s unfortunate and vulnerable situations.
Yeah. Campbell, do we need a law change? Or do you think the laws are there, we’re just not using them?
Roberts: I think it’s been said, the laws are there but we’re just not enforcing it. And I think some of that enforcement is a problem. You know, if you’ve got 30, 40, 50 people in a boarding house and you close it, where do you then put them? And already the government’s, I think has budgeted for $4 million for motels.
Two, it was. Two, yeah.
Roberts: 2 million, and now we’re up to, sort of, 14, 15 million and 25 million for the year. I mean, the problem is that we’ve let this thing develop into a crisis situation, and now we’re trying to deal with the crisis, and we just haven’t got the buildings to put people into.
Yeah. I mean, you’re talking, Hurimoana, about the fact that you’ve still got demand, and we started having this conversation last year when we filmed people living in cars, people who were working. And then also, Te Puea opened its doors to people, so do you think we’re better off now than we were then or not?
Dennis: No, no. In fact, probably going to get worse. I mean, there’s a lot of unknown out there, now. There’s a lot of families probably still living in overcrowded situations. But the sad thing is, Lisa, our leaders have known about this problem since 2010. Quite explicit papers have gone up to Cabinet, and it was very clear about, ‘Be careful. This is what’s coming – high-needs families, lack of housing, the infrastructure doesn’t work, we’ve got some issues, and 2017 is when this is all going to hit the fan.’ And here we are, 2017, seven years later, and nothing’s been done. You’ve got to remember too, we’ve got families who have been humiliated, separated, kids have gotten sick, and the worst this is, is we had agencies and funded agencies and NGOs dropping their clients off at our place. And then when we did open our doors, we were told, ‘There’s no crisis.’ And then three weeks, there is a crisis. And then they said, ‘We went out to have a look,’ and, of course, they didn’t. You know, it’s just inexcusable to think that we’re now talking about something that they were warned about in 2010. That report was done by the Housing Shareholder’s Advisory Group, and it was very, very explicit.
Well, let’s bring Campbell in on this. Hurimoana says they were explicitly told and you say they were told as well, so has enough been done? Has the government done enough?
Roberts: Absolutely not. I mean, I was part of the Housing Shareholder’s Group, and I think there is a clear plan there. There was a talk at that stage. The prime minister himself said to me, ‘There is going to be a crisis.’
The prime minister now, Bill English?
Roberts: Yes, that’s right. But that crisis hasn’t been dealt with. I mean, in Auckland alone, you’ve got a gross of… We’ve been– I suppose 20 or 30,000 houses in the last five years we’re short of, in terms of people who have come in and houses that have been built. That situation is just intolerable, and the action has been too slow, and it’s just not been focused enough.
Peter, the government would say it’s spending $6 million a day in various types of housing support, that it’s going to have, by the end of this year, just over 2000 emergency beds – it’s budgeted $180 million in the budget just gone for those emergency beds. If none of that’s kind of solving the problem, what’s missing?
Fa’afiu: I mean, the first thing is that emergency housing and transitional housing on the housing continuum, is the pointy end of the continuum, right? So you’ve got extra services that are required for people in those situations, so that’s the first thing. So it’s not just about housing individuals or families within an asset, it’s actually the wraparound services that come with it. The second thing is, I think there has been some good pilots that have been undertaken by the government in the last 12 months. One, and no doubt Campbell knows about this one, is the one in Lukes St, you know, Otahu, that’s housing New Zealand’s first emergency housing, purpose-built development, right? And then there was the Housing First policy to help homelessness in Auckland, and, of course, you know, government announcement with more resourcing going into that space. The question I struggle with strategically is, you know, again it’s the pointy end of the spectrum. So what do we need to do further upstream, particularly in that social housing space that was spoken about, to ensure that people are not getting to the point where they actually have no option but these boarding houses.
So, what’s the magic number for social houses, then? If you could wave a wand and build a certain number of houses, what would it be?
Dennis: That’s where, I think, in my opinion – I’m going in the opposite direction, Lisa – while we do need some more homes, the bottom line is these people have got high-end social issue needs, and if you don’t address those needs, all you’re doing is moving the problem from left to right. And we saw that at the marae, but one of the biggest problems, I think, is there’s been no sincerity, no manaaki, no aroha in the leadership in terms of the decision-making, because, as I said before, I think it’s inexcusable to think that people know about these things and have decided to do nothing. And seven years later, we have an issue. I don’t know how genuine it is in terms of moving the programme forward. There was no plan; there was no comprehensive plan. Everything was all higgety-piggety. No one could answer our questions.
So whose failure is this?
Dennis: Well, for me, the starting point when it comes to homelessness situations needs to be whanau. I’m not a fan of the agencies’ need to fix everything, because I don’t think that’s what they‘re there for. They need to be helping those who need the help the most. Whanau should’ve been there first and foremost, and agencies should’ve gotten behind those families to support them, to support others. That’s the first thing. But I think in the housing continuum, there are some issues there that need to be addressed, especially around the transitional and social hou— That’s where we are. We’re a marae-level, transitional, indigenous homeless-service delivery model. Our kaupapa very much is built around our marae in the protocols, and it went well for us.
Campbell, what do you think? Should there--?
Roberts: Yeah, I think there does need to be more building. There needs to be 500 houses in Auckland – social houses in Auckland – a year, but there needs to also be affordable housing. That’s the problem. Government’s now saying affordable housing’s 650,000, yet the median income’s 90,000, and they’re building on that basis. Well, we reckon that we need 15,000 houses built under 500,000, so that’s, sort of, affordable housing. 15,000 houses are needed in Auckland now which are priced under 500,000. Now, that’s not possible.
Fa’afiu: And then you have the situation where government sets a number, and particularly around Crown land and Housing New Zealand land, how many houses we’re going to build per year, but then you actually get to the doing, and, again, it’s about the doing, right? It’s about the action on the ground. Now, if you talk to the ‘doing’ community – the property developers, the building companies, they’re struggling at the moment. I mean, you’re short on gas fitters, electricians by 6000. You’re short of truck drivers by 600. You’re short on other apprentices by a couple of thousand as well, so they can’t pull them out of the pipeline quick enough in order to build housing. And then on the other side of the coin, you’ve got immigration.
So what do you do? What do you do, then?
Fa’afiu: it’s a balancing act, and, unfortunately, it’s a balancing act that the government of the day is stuck with. And it’s a balancing act that’s been built up over the last 30-plus years, and you’ve had other experts come on and say that. This has been around for a long time, and, unfortunately, this government of the day has got the responsibility for now to deal with the issue.
But are they taking that responsibility seriously, in your view? Enough?
Fa’afiu: I think there’s a lot—My personal view, I think there’s a lot more clarity with Amy Adams as minister. That’s my view.
Versus Nick Smith, you’re saying?
Fa’afiu: I think there’s clarity with Amy Adams and what she says she’ll do she’ll do. I mean, a good example is around releasing Crown land, Housing New Zealand land down in South Auckland and other parts of Auckland. It’s a policy that has been in the pipeline for a while, and she had released it and done it. So that’s the type of minister that I prefer to deal with and probably the type of minister that this kind of government currently needs.
Roberts: While there’s clarity, I think there’s not enough strategy. I mean, what’s happening now is not enough, so there needs to be a greater strategy which actually picks up what demand we’re talking about. So we need to identify those numbers, we need to identify the need and then we need to have a strategy to actually meet that. Now, I don’t believe that strategy’s in place. Now, the minister’s—Let’s acknowledge that more work is being done, but in fact, 150,000 people have come into Auckland in the last five years. That’s the size of the city of Hamilton. Hamilton has 58,000 houses, and we’ve actually put 34,000 in place. Now, we need to have a strategy which says, ‘If we’re bringing in 150,000 people, we need to have those number of houses.’ We haven’t got that strategy.
So, what, turn down the tap on people coming in if we can’t house people? Because there is some population flow you can control.
Roberts: That’s right. There is some. So it’s got to be a mixed situation. It’s many levers that are needed here to actually make sure that we actually move forward, but you need to have a strategy if you have—Peter’s quite right; we haven’t got the structure that’s needed to do the building. Now, there’s no excuse for that, because we identified this crisis five years ago, and now we’re arguing about whether there’s a crisis or not. And that’s just ludicrous that we’re having that, when we have the sort of pictures that we had this morning, to say that that’s not critical.
Well, is that negligence on the part of the government, then, if you told them six or seven years ago?
Dennis: That’s right, because when you get these—
Do you think it is?
Dennis: Well, when you get these papers put up to cabinet, one would expect some attention. So from June 2010 to November 2010, there was a flurry of meetings, papers and all sorts, so I’d love to see what happened after November, but clearly, because of what we’re dealing with now in 2017, not a lot has happened. And that’s simply because there’s been no urgency around any of this, whether they’re having discussions, buildings things infrastructures. And I come back to the leadership, Lisa. It can only be one thing – whether it was sincere, genuine and honourable. Because, as I said, families have really suffered, humiliated, kids have been out of school, kids have gotten sick, humiliated in front of their own families, and that’s just not good enough.
Are you opening the marae again this year?
Dennis: Well, we would love to do our bit, and, look, our board of trustees, our marae committee, our beneficiaries, we have a very, very big social conscience, and we see people like this just about every day, and we would like to do more, because we think at a marae-level we can do more.
But do you need money for that? And are you getting any funding?
Dennis: Well, everybody needs money to do all of those sorts of things, but I did say to the agencies we would like to help. But I’m not going to be asking our whanau to come back and volunteer their time when there is agencies out there who are getting paid to do this sort of thing and they’re not doing it very well.
Fa’afiu: Just on that, in order to support the marae and the great work that Te Puea Marae has done over the last 12 months, I put a challenge out to the Pacific churches, and the challenge is this – over many years, you’ve had your congregation pay 10% to 15% of your tithing, right? I think there’s an opportunity now, where the majority of people are of Pacific descent, to actually give some of that back, whether it be releasing some of that tithing or actually utilising the assets they’ve built up over the years. So that’s the challenge I put out to the Pacific leaders and particularly the Pacific church leaders. Government will do its bit, but you need to come halfway as well.
All right. We’re out of time. Thank you, gentlemen, all for joining me this morning.
Transcript provided by Able.

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