Warning over Govt's state house plan

STATE HOUSES: Waterview resident Bill McKay is the co-author of Beyond The State which looks at  the history of state housing in New Zealand. 
STATE HOUSES: Waterview resident Bill McKay is the co-author of Beyond The State which looks at the history of state housing in New Zealand. 

The author of a new state housing history book is warning the government to tread carefully as it redevelops existing stock in a bid to get more people into accommodation.

Numerous state home tenants are being relocated as Housing New Zealand reviews its use of existing properties - subdividing some to create more houses, selling others to reinvest the money elsewhere and using a number to increase opportunities for lower income first home owners.

McKay, the associate head and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland School of Architecture and Planning,   says the introduction of  reviewable tenancies and a move away from state housing for life makes sense but is always more complicated than one policy fits all.

"You have this widow, whose family has left home, living in a three-bedroom house and she has spent her whole life three blocks back from St Heliers. I agree that she isn't necessarily the best use of that resource.

"But when you do relocate her you can't put her in West Auckland, ripping her out of her whole social circle."

McKay has co-authored the book Beyond the State with writer, editor and architect Andrea Stevens.

He says there is still a place for social and state housing.

"I accept that it is wasteful to have an old-fashioned state house on a big section when that land in Auckland could be used more efficiently, not just for social housing but for people like my kids who need to be able to afford to buy a house.

"But you don't solve that problem by shifting a whole lot of social housing to a cheap chunk of land with no amenities, no infrastructure, in the middle of nowhere."

He says the government's approach could recreate current problems further down the track.

"We actually have this saying in design that people want everything to be cheap, quick and good but you can only ever have two of those.

"If it is going to be cheap and quick it is not going to be good. What the government is trying to do at the moment is come up with a cheap and quick solution to a problem."

 Beyond The State looks at the history of state housing and how architects have adapted these houses to fit the modern lifestyle.

McKay says myths and prejudice about state homes need to be debunked.

"The classic state houses of the first Labour Government were actually built to address a housing shortage," he says. "They weren't about welfare or social housing which is the way many people think about them today. It was about getting working class men and their families into decent housing and raising the standard of housing."

He says the shift to welfare housing kicked in from the 1960s and with it came other changes.

"The classic state houses are all built out of native timber, they are really solid and well built but then there was the introduction of pine framing, synthetic materials like softboard, hardboard and asbestos roofing."

With the decrease in quality came an increase in density.

"That is when you got lots of problems in places like Porirua and Glen Innes where they really ramped up the density and you ended up with a whole lot of people with the same problems living cheek by jowl."

East And Bays Courier