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Paula Bennett’s $5000 offer to struggling or homeless families

By Paul Lochore FREINZ

June 2016

Is Paula Bennett’s $5000 offer to struggling or homeless families a life saver or a potential can of worms?

If you’re a Housing NZ tenant and you can’t afford to live in Auckland – move out. End of story.

Auckland is unaffordable for people on benefits and that’s a fact. Auckland has also become unaffordable for those in low-paid jobs. It’s sad, but true.

Just because people might prefer to live in Auckland doesn’t mean they have an automatic right to do so, no matter what. And this applies to Housing NZ tenants as much as to private property owners.

So I applaud Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett’s recent offer of $5000 to any current state house tenants or homeless families willing to relocate to a town or city where there are empty state rentals available. The amount of the grants will be determined by the size of people’s families and how far they need to travel to be relocated.

Up to 150 families could be relocated under this latest policy. It’s voluntary. No one will be forcing families to relocate. It may be just the unique opportunity that’s needed to put some families back on their feet again and to restore their hope and dignity. By 9 June 130 expressions of interest had already been received by the Ministry of Social Development.

But the government needs to increase this number of subsidies, so that even more struggling or homeless families can benefit. They’re doing an inadequate job of managing the housing problems and homelessness, particularly in Auckland, and they need to be held to account.

Market rentals are lower in smaller areas and often the environment is better for kids. Houses are also more affordable to buy outside Auckland.

When we hear stories in the media of homeless families being placed in temporary emergency housing that will result in an increase in their personal debt to WINZ extending over many years, something has to give.

Apparently there are empty Housing NZ houses in Huntly, Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Gisborne, Whanganui and Lower Hutt. But what sort of job prospects exist in these locations?

Paula Bennett’s offer won’t be suitable for all of those families who are eligible, because it may involve them pulling their kids out of school or leaving their communities and relatives and support systems behind. But what’s worse? No home or a home you can’t afford to rent –  and the ongoing pressure that this places on families and relationships?

According to the NZ Herald on June 8 there are more than 1200 empty houses on Housing NZ’s books and 486 are empty because of methamphetamine contamination. Around 730 properties are empty because of maintenance or tenant turnover.

These are sobering statistics. Is Housing NZ falling behind on property maintenance? Are they insufficiently robust in their tenant selection? If so, they need to be made accountable.

The number of homeless people and those in overcrowded homes in Auckland is increasing. Everyone has a basic right to a roof over their head. The state housing list for urgent housing has 2000 people on its list. Why do so many people need to resort to sleeping rough when there are empty Housing NZ houses they could be moving into right now?

If some of these homeless people have mental health or alcohol and drug problems, why aren’t they being accommodated in state-funded environments where they can access the medical services and the social and financial support they need?

I used to be proud to be a New Zealander. It wasn’t that long ago that most of us believed we were all operating on an equal playing field. We liked to think we lived in an egalitarian society, that anyone who worked hard and saved was certain to get a house of some sort.

Not any more.

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