Friday, October 17, 2014

Go back to Dipton, Bill

If there was any doubt the mean, shifty Southland farmer that lurks inside Bill English has finally outed itself - like Frankenstein throwing off his civvies at a dinner party to reveal the monster inside - then it has surely come with Mr English's plan to sell off state housing. Not only that, but Mr English has stated the government has no intention of replacing them because there's 'not much point'. So what is the point?

Over at The Daily Blog, Frank Mackasey makes a good case that the point is about National achieving the fiscal surplus upon which it has staked so much political capital. And with the economy looking like it may well head south over the next twelve months, that surplus is looking less achievable all the time. But selling off something in the order of $18 billion of state housing would make that surplus a realistic prospect once again, and it would make National look freakin' awesome. It would even wipe out a good portion of the debt these trusty fiscal managers have managed to run up since coming into office. Whatever 'the point' actually is, you can bet your bottom dollar it has nothing to do with providing affordable housing to low- and middle-income households. Indeed, if the point is to plough the money into the consolidated fund, Mr English is right: there's no point spending it again to help poor people.
Stolen from The Daily Blog

This announcement is truly breathtaking for the sheer scale of contempt it shows Mr English holds for those less well-off than himself. Up here in Auckland there is a housing crisis of ever-growing proportions that National has made no attempt to deal with (no, Bill, zoning regulations are NOT the problem). Social agencies have been reporting for some time now that accommodation for families is almost impossible to find; families and children sleeping in garages and caravans has become normalised; and more families are living in cars and crammed into single rooms in boarding houses.

For families living in state housing, and those already unable to afford market rents (never mind being able to purchase their own home), the sale of state houses will mean their tenuous grip on the housing market disappears altogether. It's true that the houses won't disappear, but in Auckland's overheated property market it is highly unlikely that the houses will get purchased by the current tenants or be sold at a price that is affordable for middle-income families. On the contrary, if Mr English is seeking to maximise the government's return they will get sold to speculators, developers and investors because they are the ones with access to finance.

The sale of state housing won't reduce the total stock of housing but it completely overlooks the fact that the underlying problem is a shortage of housing in the places people want to live. As a government supported by developers and consisting of property owners itself, National well understands that increasing the stock of affordable housing will have downstream impacts on house prices and rents. But it should not need pointing out that in a representative democracy, governments are not installed to attend to the special interests of a few, but to govern in a way that maximises the welfare of all. That includes the low- and medium income families it is increasingly clear this government's Ministers despise. If any equity in housing is to be achieved, the existing stock must be retained and added to.

One of the more remarkable statements from Mr English is that "Housing NZ was too slow to develop new houses in areas such as Tamaki, and had failed its tenants by not helping them to become independent". Independent?? What the hell is he talking about? Mr English explains: "If you are a sickness beneficiary and you get in here [state housing] because you meet various criteria, and you have undiagnosed or untreated depression, no one ever came and knocked on your door and said, 'How are you getting on, maybe you could work now".

WTF? Let's think about this for a millisecond. One: people don't just get into state houses because they are on benefits. Families have to be desperate to even get onto the waiting list to get a state house. So a single sickness beneficiary is not likely to even be in a state house. 2: Mr English obviously sleeps through his Cabinet meetings because there is now no such thing as a Sickness Benefit. 3: If you are on Jobseeker Allowance because you are sick then the chances are your depression has come to the attention of medical professionals and is probably being treated. Depression may or may not be why you are on a Jobseeker Allowance. 4: If your depression is undiagnosed why the hell would anyone think to rock up to your doorstep and ask you how you are getting on? How would anyone even know? 5: Housing New Zealand is not a health or social services agency so why would they ask about whether their tenants are well enough to work? And since Mr English was obviously sleeping through that Cabinet meeting as well, we can remind him that Housing New Zealand is now little more than a phone answering service with housing need now being assessed by Work and Income. And 6: If someone did want to check on the state of our mythical beneficiary's mental health, why on earth would their first question be 'maybe you could work now?'  This tells us a lot more about Bill English's view of the world than anything about how people in state housing actually live. And that view of the world is mean, petty and intellectually dishonest.

I had resolved for New Year that Spider's blog posts would be more considered and sober and to a large extent that has happened. But in this case? Fuck off back to Dipton, Bill.