20 May 2016

No housing crisis in NZ - Paula Bennett

8:02 pm on 20 May 2016

New Zealand's housing problems are not new but the result of ongoing issues, and there is no housing crisis, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says.

Yesterday RNZ reported that Social Development Ministry officials told the minister a year ago the emergency housing sector was incoherent, unfair and unaccountable.

Speaking in a Checkpoint interview tonight, Ms Bennett said she had been worried about the situation since becoming social housing minister but did not believe the situation was getting worse.

"I certainly wouldn't call it a crisis. I think that we've always had people in need. So the other night on TV I heard the homeless story was second in and then the seventh story was a man who'd been 30 years living on the streets."

Ms Bennett said many of the homeless had mental health or alcohol and drug issues that needed to be worked on over time. But her priority is to have "fixes".

"Not just at the emergency end, but along that kind of whole pipeline through to social housing through to affordable housing through to more supply. So I'm not sure it is a lot worse right now, I've been acutely aware of it for a long period of time."

Ms Bennett said the government had put a lot of funding into housing.

She disputed reports from the Queenstown Lakes Community Trust that there were 300 people looking for a roof over their heads at a time when Housing New Zealand was selling a state house and saying it had only two or three people on their wait list.

Paula Bennett during caucus run 1.03.16

Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

She said those 300 people wanted to get into an affordable house, and "they had more of a rent to buy scheme".

"We don't need that house, why wouldn't we sell it and put it into some of the really acute areas?" she asked.

She did agree that there were stories of growing numbers of people without accommodation.

"Certainly I reckon you've got people that are getting into debt people that are getting them into situations, landlords get to be a bit more picky. I've got to say from a social housing perspecitve in Housing New Zealand we are less tolerable of inappropriate behaviour and violent behaviour, so we certainly are kicking more people out than we used to.'

She said Housing New Zealand would not allow methamphetamine to be smoked and manufactured in its houses and people will be kicked out for doing so.

Asked whether market forces were not working in relation to housing, and whether it was time for some social engineering, Ms Bennett said there certainly were people in social housing who should not be there, and that was why Housing New Zealand was doing tenancy reviews.

As a result, she said 672 people had been moved on, more than 10 percent of whom went on to buy their own home.

She said Housing New Zealand already had 600 houses in construction and already consented.

She said there were "really good products" that were working, but "it's just not a click of my fingers overnight".

Ms Bennett said one of those was giving more money to community housing organisations, so it was not just government providing social housing.

And she said it was "not about the money".

"If we could give Housing New Zealand a heap more money they've still got consenting issues, they've still got to find temporary houses for those who've got to move out."

Ms Bennett said she took the leadership role on social housing.

"I spend the bulk of my time on social housing issues and driving my department into seriously thinking about different ways of tackling this."