Housing policy huge

OUT OF LEFT FIELD

ROSS HENDERSON
Last updated 22:04 24/11/2012

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It's hard to avoid the Labour Party as one of the talking points of the week. They had their conference last weekend, and it certainly got lots of media coverage, but not necessarily for all the right reasons.

I've been closely involved in the local branch of the Labour Party and I'm still a member, so I understand if you think I carry a bit of bias.

There was more to last weekend than rumblings of a hamfisted leadership coup. But on the issue of leadership votes, I apply basic union principles. The first is that decisions should be made on a majority vote. The idea that the leader should have to get a 60 per cent vote to keep his job isn't democratic. And yet I understand union delegates at the conference voted for this.

They were wrong to have done so.

The second union principle I live by is that once a democratic decision is made everybody is bound by it. A decision might have been made by the slimmest margin, but if it has the numbers then it is the decision. The idea that anyone who voted against the decision just goes off and wages a campaign against it is itself undemocratic.

Which is not to say that criticism shouldn't be made where criticism is due. Where it is, then the third union principle applies. Deal with the issue up front. I would hope the Labour caucus is big enough to bring up criticisms of the party leader or any MP and deal with them openly. I would also expect concerns from party rank and file to be relayed back to the leader and caucus. How does anyone lift their game if they don't get, or cannot handle, feedback?

Hopefully, the worst of the instability is behind Labour. Because the job they have to do is bigger than any single MP and his or her ambitions.

This was brought home to me by Labour's housing policy announced by David Shearer in his speech last weekend. This was big stuff.

The first part of the policy was a programme to build more affordable homes. The plan is to build 100,000 new homes over 10 years for the cheaper end of the market. As I read the information from the party, the houses will be built for the government and then sold. As houses are sold, the money from selling the first houses will be used to build the next lot.

This is a nifty way of increasing the number of houses for ownership. But I'm not sure how this helps with the shortage of state housing and social housing. Until something serious happens to lift incomes in New Zealand there will still be those who cannot afford to buy and whose incomes mean they will struggle to rent in the open market.

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So, the policy looks like one for homeowners. Nothing wrong with that on its own. There are a heap of younger people on reasonably good incomes who are struggling to get into their own house, and they shouldn't be.

I accept there will also be benefits from a boost to residential construction. There will be a need for skilled labour, not just in construction but in the supply industries. I would expect to see more apprenticeships. Alongside the demand for construction skills caused by the Christchurch rebuild, we should just be hearing one big sucking sound from the industry at the end of each school year as it soaks up talented young people.

But I also think we need to make sure housing is available for those who cannot afford to buy. Whether it's state housing or other social housing, we need more of these types of housing, too.

The second part of David Shearer's announcement was for a residential warrant of fitness scheme. This is about making rental housing, in particular, safe and healthy for tenants.

Houses and flats will need to be insulated, have efficient heating and no leaks or dampness.

Hopefully it will mean the end of the slum landlord.

We should be concerned about the quality of housing we put people into. Especially as many landlords are reliant on the accommodation supplement being paid to tenants. Landlords should understand their obligation is to provide housing of an acceptable quality.

Labour's housing policy tells us there are alternatives to the present menu of do-nothing actions by the present government. We need to hear those alternatives loud and clear.

This policy is a start. Now, we need more.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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