I sometimes think I inhabit a parallel universe. This is borne out by the many who spot me coming and quickly cross to the parallel footpath. The feeling comes on particularly vigorously if I dwell on the nation's housing situation. Or, more accurately, housing crisis.
We're all familiar with the haunting media images of the new legions of the homeless – families sleeping in vans and lean-tos and so forth.
We've also become aware of the legions still fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads, but grappling to cope with rents that consume much of their income. Adding insult to injury, many of these are so-called working poor – families with either single or even double employment incomes still living hand-to-mouth because of the killer rents.
We also know that house prices – and therefore rents – were ratcheted up by a previous Government that envied the huge private profits being made by predatory property policies overseas, and wanted in on the action.
Consequently, they inflated housing demand by encouraging bulk immigration while simultaneously shrinking the state housing stock. Voila! A local replica predatory rentier economy. Now, a newish Government reckons they're commendably trying to neutralise the yawning gap between those holding property prior to the house price explosion, and those not. Commendable – but so far ineffectual. Somehow the much-vaunted "affordable" KiwiBuild housing was affordable only if you had access to a six-figure income. Now there's talk of rent-to-buy schemes and no-frills kit-set constructions, as though these are brand new brainwaves.
Years ago in Auckland, I lived a few clicks down the road from what was called a Transit Camp. It was in Pt Chevalier – coincidentally near where the PM until recently lived – and, as the name suggests, comprised half-way housing for families waiting for permanent housing. On a couple of hectares, a collection of state-built houses were temporarily up on blocks, but serving as functioning abodes. Amongst many others, ex Waitakere mayor and Auckland identity Bob Harvey spent time growing up there.
As houses became available, families were moved on, as eventually were the houses themselves. There were several such camps, an emergency response to what was then a housing shortage emergency. Also in my neighbourhood were many state houses housing families able to be there courtesy of sensible State Advances Government loans - in effect highly successful rent-to-buy schemes.
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These are all well-trodden territories, as are kit-set homes. NZ Railways had their own department building thousands of them a century ago. All it needs is the political will to re-implement the core templates. And therein lies the problem. Labour is still in thrall to the mythical "market", somehow still choosing to ignore the fact that Government legitimately needs to be a major player in it for equity's sake.
Government needs to fully acknowledge the emergency for what it is, and commensurately commit state resources to addressing it. Instead, it's pussy-footing around with half measures, petrified of upsetting private business interests and the banks – a marketplace that's not only spectacularly failed to rectify matters, but largely caused the calamity in the first place.
Various private charitable trusts are already showcasing how to put families into basic, practical homes under various rent-to-buy, leasehold and shared ownership schemes. But much more is needed. Let Megan Woods talk to people like Ricky Houghton of He Korowai Trust in the Far North, who's putting vulnerable families into their own genuinely affordable homes (ironically relocated ex-state houses), and training local rangatahi in the process.
Let Grant Robertson stand up to the machinations of the private banks and fund these urgent programmes via the virtually interest-free credit possible using our own sovereign Reserve Bank – just as Uncle Joe Savage's Labour Government intelligently did.
The old Government Ministry of Works built half the major infrastructure we enjoy today. What's needed for this current crisis is a similar ministry – let's call it a Ministry That Works.