Labour say Nick Smith 'probably' suppressing housing data

MBIE's headquarters in Wellington.

MBIE's headquarters in Wellington.

Labour's Phil Twyford says the Government is probably trying to bury embarrassing data in their long-delayed Housing Affordability Measure, as calls grow for the project to be released.

The Housing Affordability Measure (HAM) was commissioned by Cabinet in 2012 but still has yet to see the light of day, despite a planned release in 2015, 2016, then February 2017.

Documents released to Stuff under the Official Information Act revealed Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials were worried about a possible lack of "minsterial agreement" with the measures.

An MBIE briefing considers the risks and benefits of a 2017 release. Emphasis added by Stuff.

HAM will show whether housing is unaffordable for both renters and first home buyers in specific areas and at specific income bands all across the country, with historic data back to 2002. It will be a "Tier 1" statistic, on the same level as inflation and GDP.

READ MORE: MBIE worried ministers won't like their long-overdue housing affordability measure

Labour, the Green Party, and ACT are calling for the Government to release the measure as soon as possible.

Twyford, Labour's spokesman for housing, said it "looks like" Buildings Minister Nick Smith was trying to bury the data.

"I think Nick Smith has probably done his best to make sure that this new affordability measure doesn't see the light of day, because he knows just how embarrassing it would be for the Government given the atrocious state of the housing market," he said.

"I think what started out seeming like a good idea for the Government a few years ago, it looks like they've done their best to try and bury it. It's pretty clear from what the officials have said in these documents that there's a great deal of embarrassment about it."

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Twyford hoped the housing measure would be released before the election in September. If Labour came to power then he would push for it to be released as soon as possible.

"There's no issue at the moment that's more worthwhile for the country than getting the housing crisis sorted out. And getting good data should be a top priority.

"The last thing that National Government wants is a housing indicator that paints a true picture of the state of housing affordability."

A spokesperson for Smith rejected this accusation in a written statement.

"That is ridiculous, the minister is keen to see the Housing Affordability Measure released.

"The project is being led by officials, and the minister has been briefed on the project's progress. The relocation of Statistics New Zealand from earthquake damage has contributed to the project been slowed.

"Tier 1 statistics like CPI and GDP require a significant amount of work and are generally released first in experimental form for further testing. This ensures they are able to meet the high bar set for Tier 1 status."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said good policy needed good data.

"The fact that National ministers may well want to avoid this information coming out in an election year is no surprise, because it just highlights their failures over the last eight years."

"They are following the same approach that they've taken over child poverty measurements. Rather than having good quality information about the extent of the problem so that they can devise policy that addresses the problem directly, they are just prepared to make it up on the fly because they are not actually interested in dealing with it."

Turei believed it was "highly unlikely" the measure would be released before the election, but she hoped it would be.

Act Leader and sole-MP David Seymour said the Government needed to release the figures fast.

"I just think it's a hopeless evasion by the Government not to release these figures, and the only reason that they might not have released it is because it undermines their denial that there is a problem."

"I'd just challenge them to release the figures. It's very difficult to solve a problem if you can't accept that it's there."

 - Stuff


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