2 Dec 2008

Minister denies deceiving public over state housing

6:14 am on 2 December 2008

Housing minister Phil Heatley is adamant he said publicly before the election that no state houses would be built under any National-led government for two or three years.

The Labour and Green parties have accused the Government of deceiving the public and launching an entirely new state housing policy after it revealed plans to cap the number of state houses.

The parties say the move will lengthen waiting lists and leave already vulnerable people at the mercy of landlords.

However, Mr Heatley said on Monday that he mentioned the plans several times in speeches and can prove it through transcripts.

He says the Government will cap Housing New Zealand's 67,000 state houses so it can put more funding into insulating and maintaining homes.

Green Party housing spokesperson Sue Bradford said the Government appeared to be launching an entirely new policy, as there was no mention of a cap before the election, held on 8 November.

Ms Bradford said if the Government caps state houses at current levels, there has been a major deception of voters.

She said that before the election, Mr Heatley spoke about the Government's obligation to help people with housing needs. She said the Greens believe investing in houses is one of the most sensible things the Government can do during a recession.

The former Labour government had been in a process of buying back state houses to add to social housing stockpile.

Labour's housing spokesperson George Hawkins said as opposition housing spokesperson, Mr Heatley used his time in Parliament to highlight the problem of waiting lists for state houses.

Mr Hawkins said the Government was now using "weasel words" saying it would not sell off state houses but then capping numbers. This would result in more people on the waiting list for a Housing New Zealand home.

According to Housing New Zealand, 10,023 people are on the waiting list for a state house.

Minister denies accusation

On Monday, the Housing Minister was adamant that he had not misled the public over state housing.

Mr Heatley told Checkpoint he has said on numerous occasions that National had made a deliberate decision to cap the number of state homes so that money could be put into upgrading stock.

He told the programme he could provide the Green and Labour parties with transcripts - although he did not know if he had used specifically the word "cap".

Prime Minister John Key said plans to cap the number of state houses were consistent with the National Party's election promises.

He said the government's primary focus will be on improving the quality of state houses.

Action needed over healthy homes - council

The Business Council for Sustainable Development called for strong measures to make New Zealand houses healthier to live in, saying home buyers currently have less protection than car buyers.

The council said 1 million New Zealand homes are poorly insulated and 50 people go to hospital each day from respiratory illness though unhealthy homes, and 180,000 work absences annually are related to poor housing.

A type of warrant of fitness should be issued to homes, as house buyers currently have less protection than car buyers, it said.

The council would like to see the Government's accommodation supplement would only be payable where rental properties comply with standards, and a rent supplement paid to the landlord of homes with the new warrant of fitness.

In addition, so-called green improvements to housing should be fast-tracked through local authorities' consent procedures.

The council said renters are especially at risk, since they do not usually research properties using LIM reports. It said the cost of improvements would be met by savings in health, energy use and absenteeism.