Catholic housing provider slams policy shift


by NZ CATHOLIC staff

A change in Government policy for housing vulnerable New Zealanders could worsen the immediate outlook for hundreds of families working with a Catholic community housing provider.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust in Auckland has criticised a Government move to shift funding towards new builds of public housing, rather than funding new “redirects” into private accommodation for the vulnerable who need housing.

A statement by Monte Cecilia described “redirect housing contracts” as involving multi-year agreements by Government with Community Housing Providers (CHPs) to help fund the lease of private properties. The CHP arranges the lease with a property owner to house a family, who contribute 25 per cent of their income to paying the rent, with the Government paying the rest.

But from October 1 this year, no new redirects from CHPs to private accommodation will be approved. Newshub reported that “existing redirects will be able to be relisted when they become vacant, and existing leases will be able to be renewed. The change in practice only applies to new redirects”.

The Monte Cecilia statement criticised the move, stating that “by the end of 2021 [this] is expected to force over 200 families (totalling over 1000 people, 700 of whom are children) currently in Monte Cecilia accommodation to wait years in temporary housing for the Kāinga Ora build programme to catch up”.

“The change in policy will also negatively affect the more than 400 families currently on Monte Cecilia’s wait list.”

The shift in Government policy was announced in January as part of its Public Housing Plan 2021-2014. Among the results the Government wants are an increase in new build public housing, and a progressive decrease in the proportion of private market homes leased for public housing. The aim is to help correct years of underbuilding of public housing.

But Monte Cecilia CEO Bernie Smith said that “redirects have been a crucial tool for organisations like Monte Cecilia to minimise the homelessness crisis’ impact on top of Covid-19’s implications on New Zealand’s economically vulnerable families”.

“We have been finding housing this way at a rate of three a week for several years, and had managed to place over 200 additional families into transitional housing,” he said.

“When Labour came to power there were just over 67,000 state houses and a wait list of 5000. Five years later and the state house numbers have grown by less than a thousand, while the public housing wait list has soared to 24,000. The decision to throw tools out of the toolbox at this time of crisis is utterly baffling, and what’s doubly confusing is the Government’s own 2021-2024 housing plan acknowledges the role of CHPs, and states they are committed to ongoing investment in the sector.”

At the same time that the Government is stopping new redirects for CHPs, Kāinga Ora is still buying new developments to meet its goal of an additional 1000 transitional (redirects) properties by September 30, Monte Cecilia noted.

“In his evidence to the Waitangi Tribunal this month, Kāinga Ora CEO Andrew McKenzie said the organisation has an ‘ambitious programme’ to increase the number of state houses by 8200 over the next four years. But, on current figures, this will not even keep up with the increase in housing need, much less tackle the enormous waiting list,” Mr Smith said.

“The Prime Minister herself has spoken of pulling every possible lever, but instead it feels like they’re pulling the rug out from under us at a time when families are stuck living in overcrowded houses, garages and even cars. Politicians and Government officials love talking about supporting CHPs and using housing development openings as photo opportunities, but mostly it’s been all talk and very little action.”

Newshub also reported that funding to CHPs has increased from $95 million in 2016-2017 to $339 million in 2019-2020.

“Between July, 2020, and June, 2022, CHPs are expected to bring on 1283 places — all approved or contracted — and approximately a third of these have already been delivered,” the Newshub report added.

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Michael Otto

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