Kerre McIvor
Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Kiwi families need homes

Michael Joseph Savage, right, and his Labour Government believed they should provide state houses. National doesn't agree. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Michael Joseph Savage, right, and his Labour Government believed they should provide state houses. National doesn't agree. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The image of Michael Joseph Savage carrying a dining room table into New Zealand's first state house is etched into the consciousness of many Kiwis.

Providing affordable, quality family homes was a major aim of the first Labour Government and under Michael Joseph Savage, they provided it.
State houses, they believed, would give families a home to call their own. Furthermore, the local economy would be stimulated and construction would provide employment for the thousands of men left jobless by the Great Depression.

Labour came to power in 1935 and set about buying up hundreds of hectares of land and engaging private contractors to build the homes - the first significant public/private partnership.

The first of these was opened in 1937 - 12 Fyfe Lane in Mirimar, Wellington - and the first tenants were the McGregors.

David McGregor was a tram driver and the rent he paid for the house was just over a third of his pay.


The day of the opening saw a huge crowd gather outside the home and Savage clearly didn't need the spin doctors and PR firms we have today to maximise a good photo opportunity.

He lugged the hefty dining room table through the throng, to show that although he might have been the prime minister, he was a servant of the people, not above doing manual labour and heavy lifting.

Apparently, he was a servant of the people only while people were watching - he dropped the table as soon as he came through the door and out of sight of the crowds.
There was a genuine belief amongst the politicians of the time that low-paid workers deserved decent family homes. When the Opposition National Party protested the suburban homes were too far from city workplaces and that central city flats should have been built instead, the first Labour Government argued families deserved privacy, that a man should have a bit of land so he could grow vegetables for his family and so his children could play safely outdoors.

My dad's family must have got a state house in Christchurch not long after the McGregors did and my poppa certainly made the most of his quarter-acre paradise.
And paradise it must have been especially for my grandmother, who spent the first years of her married life living in a tent in a Depression work camp.

The grandad had a magnificent vege garden - and an impressive home-brewing enterprise in the garden shed - and he and my grandmother raised five children in their state house, all of whom were successful and none of whom ever needed the assistance of the state.

My, how times have changed.

Now we have a Government looking to abrogate its responsibilities by contracting out the supply and management of state housing to community providers.
I understand it's all about ideology - National has always believed it's better for people to own homes rather than rent them from the state, and that if housing must be provided, they'd rather leave it to private contractors.

We are in the middle of a reform programme, and the Government announced this week it was looking for a private developer to renew, reconfigure and develop up to 2500 homes in Christchurch, including the Prime Minister's childhood home.
Good luck.
The Government hasn't been able to find anyone interested in more than 300 state houses in Invercargill and a deal with local iwi to manage state houses in Horowhenua has also fallen through.

I'm of the Labour school of thought.
If people cannot afford homes, despite their very best efforts, it's up to the Government to provide for them.

Instead of forking out millions in accommodation allowances, help people into their own homes.

The benefits of owning over renting are many. But I suppose it's unrealistic to expect National to change its policy - perhaps it would be better to demand that Labour go back to its roots and its core values.

- Herald on Sunday

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