Recommended reading

Have a great weekend!

The Human Rights Commission must show it has its own house in order on sexual harassment – Toby Manhire

The last week has seen another woman at the centre of allegations over sexual harassment in the public centre. There has been no chiding statement from any commissioner at the HRC, however – however much they may wish they could. This is because the complaint this time is at the Commission itself. The way it has been handled casts serious doubt on whether the HRC is practising what it preaches, and risks staining the moral authority upon which it depends.

The Great Stink – Laurie Penny

I was among the ones saying that we should give him more time, no, he really does want to change, he’s trying to understand what he did wrong, and if we go hard we’re going to lose him. I had forgiven him the demeaning, dehumanizing things he had done to me long ago, and I had forgotten that it was not my job to decide whether anyone else should do the same. I was terrified that this man, who I loved deeply and still do, would end his life. I was angry at Twitter Justice Girl for forcing the issue. I thought she had gone too far.

I was wrong. She did the right thing. We only found out how much of the right thing she’d done when all the other stories started coming out. The guy had spent 20 years hurting women on three separate continents and — I find it hard to write this, so give me a moment — he wasn’t going to stop. He wasn’t going to stop until the women who loved him stopped giving him chances. He might have wanted to stop, but he didn’t have to, so he wasn’t going to.

Why can’t the Government be my landlord? – Julia Schiller

Especially in the wake of the latest report confirming what we already know about the state of the housing crisis, it is time for the Labour Party to remember that it is a democratic socialist party and that the greed of the rentier class is merciless and insatiable. We saw proof of that when owners of student flats raised rents by $50/week, the exact amount the new government had raised the student allowance.

Labour must stop crowing about that and other payments, such as the winter fuel subsidy, that the rightwing can justifiably criticise as handouts. These payments may potentially alleviate some financial distress in the short term but they do nothing to redress ongoing inequality.

Steven Joyce and policy-by-Twitter

It would be a perfect episode of The Thick of It, but it’s real: today, the Minister of Fixing Things Steven Joyce fundamentally altered government policy by trying to get snarky with the Opposition on Twitter:

Enter the fourth estate:

This may be news to the Minister of Finance.

And voila:

This isn’t just a case of “casually pretend that’s what we were going to do all along”. It’s a literally-radical shift in the government’s approach to public services, away from treating them like cash cows, put under greater and greater strain to deliver dividends (which just so happen to help Bill English reach that all-important surplus.) It opens the door to the idea that public organisations aren’t businesses run for a profit – they’re services run for the people of this country.

That is a conversation which terrifies National. But thanks to Mr Fix It trying to be clever in under 140 characters, it’s now one they cannot escape.

The government’s housing message dilemma

John Key was across the media yesterday, trying to tamp down suggestions the Budget would do anything at all to address the housing “issue” which everyone else in New Zealand has accepted is a crisis. The lines are familiar: there’s no quick fix (so no point doing anything at all), Kiwis are more interested in other things (… which my government has also failed to do anything about.)

Unfortunately, 76% of people and even 61% of National voters don’t think enough is being done to address the fact there are families with newborn children living in cars in Godzone. And the usual lines are ringing more and more hollow.

Watching Key on Breakfast yesterday, it felt like he was honestly surprised at the backlash on housing. At the way his brush-offs and shrugs weren’t met with a jolly laugh and a diversion into What Max Has Been Up To With That New Hair.

But that’s fair enough. Looking at the polls and broad media narrative for the past eight years, we – the embodied Common Sense of Middle New Zealand – have accepted an awful lot of stuff from this government.

We accepted that beneficiaries should be drug tested, and forced into work before their babies are even school aged. We accepted that social housing could be better run by the private sector, and that imposing basic standards on private rentals would hurt landlords too much.

We accepted that it was too difficult to get rid of zero hour contracts – until it wasn’t – and that health and safety shouldn’t apply to “low risk” endeavours like farming – unless worms were involved – and that giving new parents a full 26 weeks paid time with their babies was way too expensive.

We accepted that a surplus was the most important thing a government could deliver, and that there was nothing wrong with the price of housing, especially in Auckland.

For eight (long) years there’s been little mainstream pushback against the ideas that ordinary people deserve near-zero support from their community, and the market must not be meddled with.

But this week John Key has looked up and everyone’s staring at him saying “WTF, mate? People are living in cars? We’re putting them up in motels so their kids can sleep in a bed for once and we’re charging them for the privilege? What the hell is going on and why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

And I don’t think he really knows what to do.

I’m not going over the top to declare The Honeymoon Is Over or try to sell a 1.6% drop in Key’s preferred-PM rating as A Catastrophic Landslide Of Support. I’m definitely biased, and seriously frustrated after eight years of a government which oscillates between do-nothing when people are struggling to feed their families and men-of-action when Saudi billionaires throw temper tantrums.

But the same old lines aren’t working. The discontent is getting mainstream. And John Key may no longer have all the answers.

Nick Smith stands by slumlords, basically

Today Andrew Little’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill will get its first reading in Parliament. It requires all tenancy agreements to guarantee that the property being let meets minimum standards for heating and insulation, to be set by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The Government doesn’t like this bill. The Minister for Housing, Nick Smith, is especially concerned that imposing such standards will result in a large number of rental properties being removed from the market. And by “especially” I mean he mentions it a lot.

In 2014 he announced a Housing Warrant of Fitness trial, but warned

We need to be cautious of removing houses from the rental market when there is a shortage.

In 2015 he exempted 100,000 rental properties from meeting the 1978 standard for insulation, because

removing them from the housing stock would cause a major housing shortage.

And just this week, he railed against Little’s bill, for a familiar reason.

“It requires properties to be insulated at a pace that is totally unrealistic and would simply involve properties being removed from the rental market at the very time we’re having shortages of homes.”

If you’re getting the impression that Nick Smith is more concerned about the profit margins of landlords who own substandard housing than he does about ensuring every New Zealander has a warm, dry home to live in, you’re not alone.

And this tells you something pretty sinister about his and the National Party’s priorities and perspective on housing.

Because every time I hear Tories claim that implementing basic standards for houses people have to live in is terrible because it would “remove” hundreds of rental properties from the market, I do a little word substitution. It’s highly illuminating.

“We can’t pass this food hygiene law, it would remove heaps of [poisonous] food from the supermarkets!”

“We can’t pass this car standards law, it would remove hundreds of cars [which have NO BRAKES] from the roads!”

“This law regulating indoor heaters is terrible, it will stop people being able to buy heaters which will literally explode!”

Because what National leave unspoken, every single time, is the fact that these properties are not properties fit for human habitation. This isn’t Paula Bennett’s mythical beneficiary, turning up their nose at a free house because the birds are too loud. We’re talking about water oozing down the walls, curtains turning black with mold and children dying from preventable illnesses.

To say that it’s acceptable for people to live in these conditions because “the market”, and the government, have failed to provide adequate housing is appalling. You don’t tell people, “sure this car has no brakes but it’s the only one left and you have to drive it.”

But that’s what National are telling us: if you are poor, you should be grateful for any housing, even if it’s cold, damp and literally killing your children. When they say heating and insulation standards are impractical, they’re saying nothing can be allowed to get in the way of landlords profiting off people who have no other options.

No one wants to live in a cold, damp, moldy rental. They’re forced to, because wages are too low, houses are too expensive, and people need to live somewhere. But there’s money to be made exploiting that need, and when the choice is between ensuring everyone has a decent standard of living, or letting a greedy few keep on making money, we know which way the National Party will go.

The Epsom Paradox

After watching several of my Twitter buddies disbelievingly live-tweet the ridiculous proceedings around the Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan the other night, I had some thoughts. The good folks of Twitter liked them, so I decided to expand on them in a post. Here it is!

The angry-making thing about the Epsom Paradox is it’s not hypocrisy. It’s pure cynicism. It’s the logical end behaviour of an ideology which believes the rich and powerful are inherently more deserving, more equal, more important than those people who live in “welfare suburbs”. The belief is not, “deregulation is good”; it’s “deregulation is good when it’s good for me.”

So when I want to build a set of leaky apartment buildings, sell them to unsuspecting people and then pull out of the shell company that holds all the liability, deregulation should let me do that. The market, after all, will somehow find a way to correct for massive issues which only become apparent years after I’ve made my profits and retired to a tropical island.

But when my next-door neighbour wants to put up a couple of townhouses on the back of their section, blocking MY view and meaning other people might be able to see into MY yard, well, that’s a travesty! An infringement on my life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness! Don’t you know some of those people might be not rich?

I don’t want any of this to be taken as arguments inherently for or against development or intensification. Those aren’t my areas of expertise, and I can only speak from personal anecdata. I live on the back half of a subdivided section; I think the builders did a tremendous job of balancing the space and outdoor areas and maintaining good privacy between the two houses. I’ve also seen rows of townhouses crammed onto every inch of flat space on a section, where comfort and any thought of an outdoor lifestyle was clearly sacrificed for maximising the cash to be made.

I’m a big government kind of girl. I don’t think government, central nor local, always gets things right, but I hold two things to be true: we need to be smarter about how we use land and design housing; and the best way to ensure we do that properly is to be strategic about it. You don’t get much strategy telling the property developers of the world “go for your life, and in 20 years when there aren’t any kauri left on private property in the Waitakere Ranges the market will shed a single perfect tear.”

And the Epsom Paradox shows that there isn’t a strategy at the heart of private property profiteers. They just want to make money off the people who have no power to say no, and protect their own idyllic patches. It’s selfish and short-sighted, and if you ever want one sentence that sums up everything wrong with our current government and many of our local body politicians, look no further.

The ultimate proof of their short-sightedness is this: because the boomerbabies made a great hue and cry over Auckland Council’s rezoning proposals, the Council has withdrawn their submission. So at the next round of hearings on the Unitary Plan, the Council has no argument to put forward – but other organisations like Housing NZ do, and their suggestions are a lot worse for the leafy suburb-dwellers.

Too bad for them.