Key Points:

Mention 'South Auckland' and it usually evokes a negative response. The expanse of Auckland south of the Tamaki River is synonymous with a stereotype that flatters no one - least of all its more than 300,000 law-abiding residents.

Part and parcel with that 'South Auckland' stereotype is the never-ending debate about the precursors to antisocial behaviour. There is no doubt that the Counties Manukau Police District needs more police on the beat. We look forward to the delivery of the 300 additional sworn police staff promised by the new Government.

Police-to-population ratios are one thing. But the solution to the behaviour that creates social stress is found at a more fundamental level - home ownership.

Our police frequently remind us that they dedicate a disproportionate amount of their time to those parts of our community that happen to reflect the greatest concentration of Housing New Zealand properties.

As at November 30 last year, Housing New Zealand owned or managed 1884 houses in the Manurewa neighbourhood area (excluding Clendon) and 1639 houses in Papakura (including Pukekohe, Waiuku and Tuakau).

The vast majority of those houses are occupied by law-abiding, low-income families.

As local community leaders in the Manurewa and Papakura areas, we acknowledge the importance of social housing as a tool in the arsenal against poverty. Yet at the same time, we also acknowledge the importance of treating social housing as a short-term option.

There will always be times when some New Zealanders require social housing, which acts as a stop-gap measure while people consolidate their financial position. But private home ownership is fundamental to the Kiwi dream. And as community leaders in South Auckland, we judge the success of our communities in part on the opportunities available to our constituents to move from social housing to private home ownership.

Here is where things have fallen down over the past nine years.

At no stage did the previous Government envisage an opportunity for Housing New Zealand tenants to buy the houses they occupy. It is a tribute to the strength of a flawed ideology that successive Ministers of Housing have resolutely denied state housing tenants the opportunity to move to ownership.

Denial of ownership has come at a price. And we see that price in the neighbourhoods and streets where denial has created entire communities that are locked out of the Kiwi dream of home ownership.

Recently the Counties Manukau Police busted a Housing New Zealand property in Randwick Park, which had been converted into a P lab. So contaminated is the house and garage on the property that the buildings have to be demolished to mitigate the risk to the public's health.

In parts of our community, Housing New Zealand houses have been tagged and vandalised to the point where the repair bill will run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Incredibly, much of the vandalism is the responsibility of people who either live at the property, or who are associated with those who do.

What protections are put in place to ensure the New Zealand taxpayer's investment in residential property is safeguarded? After all, Joe Public is paying for these properties. Surely Joe Public has a right to expect that his or her investment is going to be preserved?

At a more fundamental level, it is time to move beyond simply expanding the stock of Crown-owned houses. It is time for Housing New Zealand tenants to once again have the opportunity to buy the house they occupy.

New Zealanders equate property ownership with an enhanced sense of citizenship. Whether that equation is fair is a moot point; it's how people think.

We believe the new Government needs to do two things. Firstly it must commit to a permanent moratorium on the construction of Housing New Zealand houses in Manurewa and Papakura. Our communities can no longer sustain the social consequences of whole neighbourhoods where people are temporary dwellers.

Housing New Zealand must instead focus on enhancing the management and maintenance of its existing housing stock. Everyone should have the right to quiet enjoyment, security and peace of mind in their own home. By being a better neighbour, Housing New Zealand would contribute to that sense of security and enjoyment.

Secondly, the new Minister of Housing must work with the tenants in our community to support their aspirations for home ownership. We are speaking out on behalf of our community and saying it is time for our constituents to be at the front of the queue in the transition from temporary to permanent tenure through home ownership.

Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair referred to the need to tackle crime as well as the causes of crime. Ensuring that we have sufficient police on the beat is certainly a critically important outcome. But at a more fundamental level, we need to increase the rate of private home ownership, if we are to raise levels of personal and asset wealth, increase social cohesion and eliminate population transience.

We are willing to lead the debate on behalf of our Housing New Zealand constituents, as well as the wider communities of Manurewa and Papakura. It is a debate that is long overdue.

The solution to our community's housing dilemma does not lie with increasing the size of the state's property portfolio. Rather it rests with creating an ownership society in which all residents enjoy equality of access.

* Calum Penrose is the mayor of Papakura while Daniel Newman is the Manurewa Ward councillor for Manukau City.