Activist John Minto calls for state housing to be the 'number one issue' this election
Veteran activist John Minto has called for public debate on social housing as the Government plans to sell 2500 Christchurch state houses.
At a meeting organised by lobby group Housing Action Canterbury in the city on Thursday night, Minto kicked off proceedings with a bold prediction.
"Housing Action Canterbury … is going to make this issue, the sale of state housing, the number one issue in the election this year."
The Government announced a plan to transfer between up 2500 Housing New Zealand (HNZ) properties in Bryndwr, Riccarton and Shirley, as part of its Social Housing Reform Programme (SHRP) in November. A decision on whether it would go ahead is due in the coming months.
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Minto told the meeting he was concerned a state house sell-off would mean private investors would subdivide the sections and use only a portion for social housing.
He was also worried the houses would be poorly managed and maintained in an effort to save money.
"There's a lot of money to be made from this venture."
Minto said Government should be refurbishing and building, not selling state houses.
"This is the biggest, boldest, move the Government has made and they're expecting Christchurch to sit down and take it," he said.
"I don't think New Zealand is going to do that."
Leaders of community groups, left-wing Christchurch politicians and present and former state house tenants spoke at the meeting.
State house tenant Renee "Naenae" Higgs said society looked down on people in social housing, calling them "bludgers" or in the "too hard basket".
"People think we get extra. For us it means we get less," she said.
"And now we are letting the Government pass us off to another to pick up the pieces."
Higgs has children and a disability and depends on her state house.
"I am house proud."
Community support worker Judy Howie told the meeting she had visited families in inadequate homes, cars, sheds and garages.
"Where's their mana gone? They've lost it. Where's their sense of belonging? They haven't got one," she said.
"It's the little ones that are actually suffering."
Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said there was "good scientific evidence" that quality housing was good for society as well as the tenants.
"Those people have self-identified better physical and psychological wellbeing."
They visited doctors and hospitals less and children attended school more.
"These are real figures that we can count."
Humphrey said many of the people worst-affected by Canterbury's mental-health crisis did not have homes to go to and had to be housed by the health system.
"The knock-on effect of that is enormous. It crowds out hospitals and it knocks on to everyone else in the community."
Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford told the crowd the National Government wanted to establish a competitive social providers' market "in which Housing New Zealand would be just one among many".
He said a Labour government would increase the number of state houses.
"We are going to stop the sell-off of state housing. We're going to build thousands of new state houses."
Green MP Marama Davidson said the Government "dehumanises people" in the state-housing system.
"The real cost for what is happening is our human value."
Social Housing Minister Amy Adams, who was not at the meeting, said the government could use sale proceeds to build even more social housing.
"What opponents to the Christchurch transfer aren't telling New Zealanders is that the 2500 houses will stay as social houses,' she said.
"While the ownership may change, nothing changes for the tenant – the house is a social house before the transfer and remains one after it."