Time to act on housing

Last updated 05:00 07/02/2013

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OPINION: Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee may be right to criticise the Christchurch City Council's slow repair of social housing.

Its delays have needlessly worsened the plight of those too poor to afford the city's inflated rents and thereby added to the stress of life in post-quake Christchurch.

But the council is not the only dilatory player in what is emerging as something of a scandal. Housing New Zealand (HNZ) has been slow in repairing its stock and getting its families back in residence. That last year earned Brownlee's rebuke and the demand that it do better.

At that time, 14 months after February 22, HNZ still had 500 quake-damaged houses unrepaired and uninhabitable - a large dent in the provision of accommodation and a consequent stress on the private rental market.

HNZ, like all householders, had to run the hurdles of assessment, insurance and getting builders, and some of its houses were in the red zone, but that did not justify the slow response, as Brownlee recognised.

There might seem little point now in blame, especially as the evidence suggests that the council, like HNZ, is speeding up repairs, but Brownlee's latest comment implies that the council is still not doing enough.

The criticism is probably partly prompted by The Press reporting continued housing distress and the response of citizens disgusted about such dispossession in their city.

Christchurch has a humane history of providing social housing through its city council and has maintained the provision even in the face of the market economists' criticism.

To now have citizens living in garages and crammed into houses is an affront to the city's expectation that all within its boundaries will be decently treated. The minister will not want the Government tarred as the cause of that suffering.

Brownlee, though, has more than a political defence in mind when he takes on the council. He points out that it has been paid $21 million by EQC for repairs to its housing stock but so far has completed only five units of about 470, this while more council tenants have just been forced out of 31 homes because of structural worries.

The mayor's defence is pretty much "we are doing our best and we will do better", and indeed the council faces the standard problems of assessment, insurance and repair.

The problem with all this claim and counterclaim between the city council and the Government is that no accurate account of the city's social housing needs is available.

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The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for eight months has been promising such a report, and Brownlee would be doing a useful service if he hurried it along. Without the information it promises to produce we have to rely on hearsay accounts, the reports of the social agencies and the large number of social housing units still unrepaired.

That evidence suggests a good number of Christchurch people are living in unacceptable conditions - conditions that will worsen in the approaching winter.

Something needs to be done urgently to ease their plight. The city cannot rely on the slow trickle of appropriate housing coming back on stream or the beneficence of social agencies. The mayor needs to consult interested groups and come to a best estimate of the extent of need and then act to alleviate it.

- The Press

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