Habitat for Humanity NZ submission to the Cross-Party Homelessness Inquiry

Aug 12, 2016

A delegation led by Habitat for Humanity NZ CEO Claire Szabó and Director Selwyn Screen this morning presented a submission to the cross-party parliamentary inquiry on homelessness this morning. Below is included the Habitat for Humanity NZ written submission to the cross-party inquiry submitted earlier this month.

Official definition of homelessness

The definition of homelessness created by Statistics New Zealand is problematic in that it includes the arguably value-laden term “no other options” as a prerequisite for inclusion in the category. We would argue that, given this inclusion, a judgement has to be made as to whether a person has “other options” or not, and that this judgement inevitably involves a value proposition as to what people ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be considering as legitimate options. Further, people who “have the means to acquire (housing) through the usual channels, e.g. buying or renting” are excluded from the definition; this is problematic where there are fundamental failures within the ‘usual channels.’

Current scale of homelessness, whether it is changing, and causes

A diagram of the NZ Housing Continuum developed by Community Housing Aotearoa (2015), is critical both to our understanding of housing in NZ generally, and to the development and deepening of our current housing crisis. The diagram segments the housing market along a spectrum as follows:

  • Social:
    • Emergency housing at one extreme end of the spectrum, provided by Community Housing Organisations (CHO’s)
    • Fully supported rental, provided by Housing NZ (HNZ) and CHO’s
    • Assisted rental, provided by HNZ and CHO’s
  • Affordable:
    • Assisted rental
    • Affordable assisted ownership, provided by CHO’s (including Habitat for Humanity)
    • Market affordable, provided by CHO’s and the private sector
  • Market:
    • Market affordable
    • Market rental, provided by the private sector
    • Full market, provided by the market – at the other extreme end of the spectrum

The diagram can be viewed here: http://communityhousing.org.nz/new-zealand/housing-continuum

The current crisis has seen:

  • A reduction in people achieving home ownership through the market
  • A reduction in access to state housing
  • An increase in demand at a rate higher than the rate of supply
  • The elimination of grants or even loans to the community sector to build houses

Habitat for Humanity NZ has seen and felt at the grass-roots level the impact of these changes. Habitat has been assisting families into home ownership for twenty years in Aotearoa NZ; we just housed our 100th family in Auckland. We do this work because we firmly believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live. Throughout our 20 years in NZ, our assisted home ownership programme has needed to select families earning at a higher and higher percentage of the average NZ income to partner with towards achieving home ownership, due to the decreasing ratio of income relative to house prices. Our records of applications for assisted home ownership also show that more working couples are applying for Habitat assistance into home ownership. In one such family, the father worked full-time, the mother worked part-time as a cleaner and they were unable to find even rental accommodation at an affordable rate to house themselves and their five children.
As predicted by the housing continuum and evidenced by our own data, where there is a failure across the continuum in permanent housing, homelessness ensues.

Possible policy responses

Addressing homelessness requires permanent solutions, not just emergency housing. In other words, an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff is not enough – what use is an ambulance if it has no hospital to take its patients to? It is essential that permanent solutions are restored to stem the flow of people into homelessness.
Given the failure of market solutions to house people, and given the increasing percentage of median income required for eligibility for assistance into home ownership, we require policy interventions to address both income and house prices.
It will also be vital that policy supports Maori-led solutions across the housing continuum.

Experiences of different groups and policy responses

Of particularly urgent concern is the number of Maori people experiencing homelessness (more than 50% of the homeless population and growing); this deserves policy attention, ideally in the form of seeking Maori-led responses. The work of Te Puea Marae and Manurewa Marae in Auckland has been an example for all of us, and has sent us to school on the issues of generosity and expressions of care and concern.
Of particular note also are the large and growing numbers of women sleeping rough; an area for significant concern.
Finally, we note the importance of responding to particular vulnerable populations including the elderly, people with disabilities and children.