Housing policy will destabilise life for children

High transience rates for children at our poorest schools are, as The Dominion Post reported, a huge problem for children and teachers.

Continuity of education and supportive relationships with teachers are critical for children's educational performance.

"Churn" is not good for educational performance or enrolment in primary health care, where staff can ensure children are properly immunised and chronic health problems can be followed up.

It was for this reason that, in our submission on the Social Housing Reform Bill late last year, we strongly recommended that families with school- age children should be excluded from tenancy review.

Secure tenure and stability at one school would allow children the best chance of flourishing. In high- performing countries such as the Netherlands, children are explicitly discouraged from changing schools in the middle of the school year.

The bill had announced the extension of reviewable tenancies to all state tenants (new state tenants had been subject to tenancy review since mid- 2011). However, the housing minister, as well as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, had made clear that the disabled and the elderly were to be excluded from tenancy reviews.

In our submission, we acknowledged the Government for recognising the importance of secure tenure.

People who are compelled to move house involuntarily can experience stress, loss, grief and poorer mental health. Housing insecurity is also associated with poorer physical health.

Stable communities help overcome socio-economic disadvantage by providing opportunities for the pooling of resources and exchange of services. It is right for the most vulnerable to be shielded from the fear of displacement.

However, we learnt recently that not only will school-age children be included in tenancy reviews, but the Government will disregard its previous assurances of the protection of the elderly and the disabled.

Disabled and elderly people will be among the group that will first have their tenancies reviewed.

In response to questions, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said that in the first year, no elderly or disabled people will be asked to leave state housing. However, she did not clarify why their secure tenure is important for a year, but not beyond.

The fact that vulnerable groups are no longer excluded from the fear of tenancy review means that their future in secure state housing is no longer assured.

The change in assurances given in relation to the bill, after it has been considered in select committee, is not only unfair to vulnerable tenants, those with disabilities and children, but it undermines the democratic process.

Elinor Chisholm and Philippa Howden-Chapman are part of the He Kainga Oranga/ Housing and Health Research Programme, Otago University, Wellington.

The Dominion Post