If we took Housing New Zealand chief executive Glen Sowry at his word there is a bright sunny future ahead for New Zealanders most in need of affordable homes.

Gone will be the bad old days where cold, damp, run-down, three-bedroom state houses were grouped together in suburbs. Instead, Mr Sowry tells us we will see more efficient use of land and quality affordable homes in mixed communities.

Yes, there have been a few problems in Glen Innes, he tells us, where HNZ could have involved the community more, but this is just an aberration along the path to a new dawn.

What a rosy outlook - who could possibly complain?


However, the experiences of state house tenants don't resemble Mr Sowry's glossy picture.

After facing the closure of HNZ offices around the country, the clearances of state homes in places such as Glen Innes, the Hutt Valley and Maraenui, and the sale of state homes in already mixed communities such as Sandringham in Auckland, tenants have had to put up with a lot of hassle and frustration.

Now Housing Minister Nick Smith and Mr Sowry are implementing what Mr Smith calls "the most significant change to state housing in 75 years".

Under legislation passed last week, all existing state house tenants are to be stripped of tenure (the right to remain in their home) and thousands of existing state houses are to be transferred to private "social housing providers".

National has also approved these private "social housing providers" to receive the same government subsidy as state house tenants.

Responsibility for affordable housing for those most in need will increasingly transfer from the Government to community groups and private sector landlords.

Housing New Zealand will no longer even assess tenants for housing needs - this will be done by Work and Income, who will send families to HNZ or private providers.

In typical neo-liberal double-speak, Mr Smith says he wants to "create a market in social housing", but we all know what that means - the Government is beginning the process of privatising our state rental homes.

These policies will reduce housing stability and security for the very people who need it the most.

It will be tempting for social housing providers such as the Salvation Army to go along with the Government because it will mean more money and resources for them to provide housing.

However, these groups will never be able to provide quality, affordable homes for every family who needs them. Only the Government has the resources and the capacity to do so, and if social housing providers accept this approach they will in effect betray existing state house tenants as well as the thousands of families the Government had already slashed from its state house waiting list.

Social housing providers must join low-income families to fight these policies.

When Mr Smith introduced this legislation he used an exceptional situation to divert attention from the legislation's real purpose. He spoke about the captain of a fishing vessel in Nelson who was making more than $100,000 a year but living in a state house when there were more needy families who the Government wanted to help. Never mind that the fisherman would have been paying Housing New Zealand a market rental anyway.

There are huge housing needs but turfing families out of their homes irrespective of how long they have lived there and no matter how many times they have paid off the value of the house is not the answer.

Last week Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said she was appalled at the situation of families living in a trailer park in West Auckland where they are paying huge rents for cockroach-infested caravans.

The trailer park is the logical result of leaving families to the housing market after decades of Government failure to provide quality affordable housing for its citizens.

Never in our history has the private sector provided decent housing for people on low incomes.

The National Government's housing policy is social vandalism and Glen Sowry's implementation of it is heartless. The very families which need housing stability the most are to be made less secure. This can only result in thousands more families ending up in caravan park accommodation or in eight-storey vertical slums planned for other areas of Auckland.

The next Government will have to not only repair this sabotage of state housing but will have to address the crisis in affordable housing with a programme of state house building such as in the years following World War II, when 10,000 state houses were built every year till the problem was sorted.

John Minto is co-vice-president of the Mana Movement.