If April 1 hadn't been long gone, I'd have said Prime Minister John Key and his housing Sancho Panza Nick Smith were taking the mickey when responding to reports of dozens of families reduced to living in cars alongside a South Auckland sports ground.
Dr Smith chose to appear on television before a huge roaring fire, like the Queen delivering her annual Christmas message, first tut-tutting gravely, before launching into yet another attack on local councillors and anyone other than himself.
The next day, Mr Key was on radio blaming the dumb victims. He suggested they be good folk and pop along to the local Work and Income office and all, it seemed, would be sorted out. "People often don't understand what's available to them." He said the bureaucrats would "do their very best to support people in those situations, especially when children are involved".
It was as though the revelations in the Herald's recent Home Truths series, and last week's reports of families paying up to $400 to live in a garage and others resorting to bedding down in their cars, were aberrations. That a pat on the head to the homeless and a boot in the pants to the local politicians was all that was needed to restore peace and tranquillity to Godzone.
Yet in December 2008, soon after the Key Government took office for the first time, then Housing Minister Phil Heatley was briefed by his officials about the same dire shortage of affordable housing in South Auckland. He was told of the homeless families festering away in garages and sleep-outs. Officials said 2200 families desperately needed state housing. "I've seen how serious the situation is," Mr Heatley said, and he promised urgent action.
At that time, the only urgent action on the housing front occupying triumphant John Key's mind was honouring a campaign pledge to his Nimby constituents in the Hobsonville electorate. He'd promised to expunge the 500 state houses from the planned 3000-home Housing New Zealand showpiece "sustainable mixed community" development on the old Hobsonville air force base.
On the hustings, Mr Key had declared that including state houses in this "very upmarket area" would be "economic vandalism".
Last Sunday morning, as Dr Smith began his monthly fire and brimstone sermon promising to open up the Auckland hinterland to the land developers if councillors refused, I started flicking through the latest glossy sales brochure for the Hobsonville development which had arrived with the weekend papers. What stood out was how rapacious Dr Smith, wearing his developer's hat, was being.
On television, on one channel he was weeping crocodile tears about people sleeping in cars and garages, and thundering on about the need to bring down land prices by eliminating urban development boundaries. Meanwhile, across on the other, he pointed a finger at developers, telling them we have to "rejig the way we're building houses".
He said that instead of building "McMansions, those $900,000 - $1 million properties, we've got to get our building sector focused on homes that are more in the $500,000 range that average families can afford."
Yet in the sales brochure for this government-led new town development, the only dwellings on the "affordable" scale seemed to be a few apartments "from $450,000-$550,000". True, 20 per cent of the 3000 homes have to be "affordable", but pride of place in the brochure were old air force do-up "heritage homes" going for between $1.24 million and $1.55 million. Far from the $500,000 homes that Dr Smith wants other developers to concentrate on, the majority of new homes currently on offer at his project ranged from $825,000 upwards to $1.5 million.
Ironic really. A classic case of do as I say rather than do as I do. Here, on a large property on the city fringes that the Government has land-banked for decades, Property Developer Smith and his colleagues have chosen to go with the flow, squeezing as much profit from the development, as the market will stand.
With Housing New Zealand paying annual dividends of more than $100 million to the Crown coffers, is this any wonder?
Meanwhile, in South Auckland, it's reported that one in 10 garageshouse a family paying up to $400 a week.
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