Why I Became an Affordable Housing Advocate
Based on written notes for speech to the 2016 cross-party homeless inquiry
Finding the political will to act is the most important issue.
Hi I am Brendon Harré. I work as a Registered Nurse for the Rural Canterbury Primary Health Organisation as a mental health GP liaison worker.
I am here as an individual -all my expressed opinions are my own.
I have long been interested in affordable housing -which probably relates back to studying economics at Canterbury before nursing. I wrote a submission to the 2007 Parliamentary Inquiry into Housing Affordability, while I was overseas, as I believe that the excessive rise in house prices in the last ten to twenty years has been a driver of inequality in New Zealand.
When I returned to Christchurch in 2012 my interest in housing was rekindled. In particular by a conversation I had with a mother, at a playground in Parklands, while our kids played. She described there being ice on the inside of her rentals windows. That despite her partner working, that this was the best the family could afford. When she got up the courage to ask her landlord for a heat-pump, his response was to say, ‘would that help’ and then walk away. He heard her, but was unwilling to help -I found this very morally disturbing.
Since then I and the rest of NZ have found this is not an isolated example, inadequate housing is widespread and at the sharp end much worse -latest research estimates that there are around 41,000 people moving between temporary and insecure accommodation such as garages, garden sheds, cars and caravan parks.
I often ruminate over what is the thinking that allows this to happen?
I think it is ambivalence in the minds of policymakers between protecting and enhancing property wealth versus providing policies which would actually provide affordable housing. To be frank, I think it is a lack of political will and what has happened is government politicians after listening to the housing problem, have walked away -like the landlord with the icy windows.
It is really obvious the problem is a lack of political will -all of us could come up with a set of policies -maybe with some variations -that would comprehensively fix our housing woes. The problem is not a lack of options; it is a lack of will.
I hope today we all listen carefully to the problems of homelessness and that we all in our own ways endeavour to take steps to help. That we don’t just walk away.
We are in a housing crisis and we should be single minded in our focus to fix this problem. I think talk of protecting existing property values or that they may fall by some value -40% is an unnecessary distraction. When Canterbury was in crisis immediately post-earthquakes. We focused on rebuilding, not on other things. Where we did try to protect property values -like in the CBD it was a hindrance not a help. We can see the consequences of that -we have heard accounts from previous submitters about the loss of private inner city 1–2 bedroom affordable boarding houses which have not been replaced like for like and the problems that is causing.
I think having a crisis response mentality helped us in Canterbury. If you look at the stats Canterbury’s build rate per capita it is exceptional -it is double anywhere else in the country, including Auckland and that eventually stopped rents from rising. Cantabrian rents unlike the rest of the country have been falling for a year and a half now. Although despite recent falls, still over the last five years Cantabrian rents have seen a huge increase -over $100 per week or $5000 per year for the average rental household -much greater than inflation or wage increases.
I hope the combination of more houses and recent decreases in rents in Canterbury are giving people suffering from the housing crisis more options. It hasn’t been perfect and more could be done. Previous submitters have made a good argument for better security of tenure for tenants and more affordable private, state and social housing -especially 1–2 bedroom housing which the current market is failing to supply. I think we need reforms so the housing market is more responsive to demand -not just in respect to total number needed, but also in respect to location and housing size -number of rooms.
I think there is a lesson from Canterbury’s experience with the rebuild for the rest of the country. We need a government that will admit there is a crisis like what the earthquakes caused here in Canterbury, that housing affordability is now a nation-wide crisis. Acknowledging we are in a housing crisis will give the government the political will and mental focus to fix it.
Thank you for listening to my submission.