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.

Our kids are still getting sick in unhealthy homes

Andrew Little put the hard word on John Key over housing in Question Time yesterday:

Prime Minister John Key implied that mould problems in some Housing New Zealand homes could be caused by tenants not ventilating them enough, something his widowed mother was vigilant about in their Christchurch state house.

He also rejected claims by Labour that the Government was making “a profit” from Housing New Zealand because it took a dividend.

This is one of those issues where John Key’s argument only makes sense if you haven’t seen what his government has done to SOE after SOE: put immense pressure on to deliver increased dividends – on the basis that they should “run like businesses” and not waste “taxpayers’ money” on fripperies like reinvestment and value-add.

The chairman of Solid Energy cited this pressure for dividends as a reason for his company’s financial issues.

And what’s been the anthem of this government since 2008? Surplus, surplus, surplus, even if it means making really bad short-term money decisions which will cost our country hugely in the future.

Meanwhile, we’ve found out that apparently Housing New Zealand doesn’t even do pre-emptive repairs and maintenance on vacant houses before offering them to new tenants.

A woman whose son’s severe health problems are being partly attributed to the mould in her state house says she has been offered a different house – but that’s mouldy too.

Health professionals said the mould in Te Ao Marama Wensor’s Glen Innes home was a contributing factor to her seven-year old’s faulty heart valve and holes in his lungs.

In a statement, Housing New Zealand said the recently offered house would have undergone a full maintenance and repair check, as would happen to all properties before a new tenant moved in, to make sure it was suitable.

Because there are some poor families for whom black mould actually conveys health benefits!

But I’m sure that inspection would have happened in a timely and thorough fashion. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been delayed, put off, rescheduled, or ultimately found to be too expensive. I’m sure that on some planet it makes perfect sense not to immediately check properties as soon as the previous tenants have moved out.

And I’m sure that getting people off the waiting list into any home available ASAP is not at all motivated by the only metric that matters: Nick Smith’s numbers.

juking the stats

Given how this government runs things, I have a really dispiriting suspicion that someone at HNZ figured out it was a lot cheaper to wait for tenants (who are hardly in a position of power and who definitely don’t want to be stuck back on that waiting list) to complain before fixing things.

And the result of that is that our kids are getting sick and even dying.

But hey, if Bill from Dipton gets the books into the black, everything must be going ok!

Heartless government

A few stories of recent weeks which show exactly what kind of government we have.

Last August, Emma-Lita Bourne died of pneumonia because the state house her family lived in was cold and damp. Soesa Tovo died after being admitted to hospital with heart and lung problems and pnuemonia. His house was so cold and damp they had to wipe down the ceiling every morning.

The response from Minister of Housing Nick Smith?

“People dying in winter of pneumonia and other illnesses is not new.”

Because people who expect state houses to not be so cold they kill people are clearly confused about the concept of mortality.

Marnia Heke and her children are living in their car because they can’t find stable accommodation. She doesn’t want to go to a motel for a night because it’ll get the kids’ hopes up.

The response from WINZ?

“We have told her that the Ministry would help her to cover the financial cost of temporary accommodation. We wouldn’t be paying for all of the accommodation as it would be reasonable to expect her to contribute.”

Because when a woman and her three kids are sleeping in their car what’s really important is making sure we spend the absolute minimum amount required to put a roof over their heads.

Peter Talley is given a knighthood for “services to business”. His business involves locking out workers, paying women less because they’re women, and trying to force workers to sign individual employment agreements which deny them the right to hold workplace meetings, criticise Peter Talley and his mates publicly, or deny their boss access to their entire medical history.

The response from the Deputy Prime Minister?

“It’s a big complicated business and I’m sure there’s been things go wrong over time, but I think the contribution he has made over the years has been beneficial.”

Because systematically, repeatedly exploiting your workers is just a boo-boo.

This is heartless government. A government that literally does not care about people. Not about providing warm safe housing (it might cost too much). Not about making sure they can come home every day after work (it might cost too much). Not about protecting workers’ right to freedom of speech and forming unions (it would definitely cost too much).

New Zealand is surely a better country than this.

Nick Smith just plans to move the headstones

Labour has rather unhelpfully pointed out that the land Nick Smith is promising to open up for development in Auckland includes power substations, public reserves and even a cemetery …

On Budget day, the Government announced building on public land would get underway, saying it “owns approximately 500 hectares of land in Auckland with the potential for residential development”.

But Labour claims the Government is hiding what land is actually being opened up.

“Can he confirm that no parcel of land in his 500 hectares contains the following on it – power substations, pylons, a cemetery, a fire station or school playing fields?” says Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford.

“There are thousands of sites,” says Dr Smith.

He refuses to release any of the sites included in his 500-hectare stocktake of public land until they have been confirmed.

He also refused to comment on whether he was now forming policy on the basis of watching Poltergeist a few too many times.

Nick Smith: like a boss

Last night on Twitter, Laila Harré noted the perfect meaninglessness of the “10 dramatic changes” Nick Smith plans to make to the Resource Management Act:

1. Add management of natural hazards
2. Recognise urban planning
3. Prioritise housing affordability
4. Acknowledge importance of infrastructure
5. Greater weight to property rights
6. National planning templates
7. Speed up plan-making
8. Encouraging collaborative resolution
9. Strengthening national tools
10. Internet for simplicity and speed

I just can’t believe he didn’t get “promote synergy” in there.

(Content note: NSFW, drugs/sex/language)