As a habitual reader of "Letters to the Editor" columns I this week spotted one of the best I've seen this year in Hawke's Bay Today.

Napier city councillor Maxine Boag and social housing advocate Minnie Ratima penned the powerful letter about the fiasco that masquerades as the Government's housing policy.

They point out that while we, the poor long-suffering taxpayers, are paying up to $1600 per week to house homeless families in motels in Hawke's Bay, Maraenui lost 96 units three years ago and there are now four empty state houses right now in just one street in Napier.

If anyone needs a good reason to turf out this Government, the debacle around housing is surely enough.


The housing crisis which started in Auckland driven by massive immigration numbers is spreading fast.

Wellington is reporting too few rental properties coming on to the market to accommodate the incoming student population, and this week provincial newspapers in Rotorua and the Bay of Plenty dedicated their front pages to homelessness and the rental house crises in their cities.

It seems that the only place you can rent a house is Christchurch, and that's because some of the earthquake clean-up people are now leaving.

This week the Government Minister Nick Smith announced another bureaucracy aimed at accelerating the consenting of new houses.

He said: "New Zealand needs Urban Development Authority (UDA) legislation to enable faster and better quality regeneration in our major cities. These new authorities need the power to assemble parcels of land, develop site specific plans, reconfigure infrastructure and to construct a mix of public and private buildings to create vibrant hubs for modern urban living."

This announcement went largely unnoticed.

I strongly suspect that this is because the media just doesn't take the Honourable Dr Smith seriously anymore and nobody believes that the growing house deficit will be fixed by conjuring up yet another layer of pen-pushers and desk jockeys.

The Bill English Government's inactivity in this area is incomprehensible given its commitment to what it calls "social investment".


Social investment means targeting government assistance to those whose situation means that they are likely to cost the state large sums of money in the future.

It's hard to quibble with this concept given the rich flow of information which enables government agencies to pick out kids who are likely to fail at school, leave with no qualifications, and then fall into welfare dependency and a life of offending.

As one who works with prisoners daily, I am well aware that these people amount to our most expensive beneficiaries at $100,000 per year each and that some action on their inability to read and write taken early would save the taxpayer many millions.

Unstable housing is a huge contributor to expensive social dysfunction and that was clearly understood by the Helen Clark Labour government.

Sometime in the late 1990s I was privileged to be party to a conversation between Helen Clark and social activist, the Reverend Charles Waldegrave.

Helen said that an incoming Labour government was going to be strapped for cash and asked Rev Waldegrave what would be the top priority for expenditure aimed at reducing the effects of poverty.

Charles didn't hesitate with his answer, replying that the return of income-related state house rentals would be hugely beneficial to large numbers of low-income and beneficiary families.

His reasoning was that secure long-term accommodation which allowed kids to get established at schools and their parents to find regular work and make community connections would greatly assist these families.

This conversation resulted in the Housing Restructuring (Income-Related Rents) Amendment Act 2000 which restored a long-standing Labour Party policy whereby one day's pay was to equal one week's rent.

The National Government has left this policy intact, but it is not much use to those for whom a state rental house cannot be found.

State house building has slowed to a crawl under National, the Housing Corporation has been bled for cash via dividends, and the Government seems determined to sell off large numbers of what houses we have left.

I live in a middle class Auckland suburb and the pressure on accommodation is obvious. Just about every week I spot a new sleepout getting delivered.

These are small enough to avoid the need for any kind of council consent and they amount to an easy cash flow for a householder who has enough space to fit one or two of these on their property.

The fact is that we have faced this kind of crisis before and the only way out is for the state to build more state houses and units, and to enter the market with a stream of affordable houses.

We simply cannot afford to condemn families to a nomadic existence.

If we do this, we'll pay heavily.

Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.