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18th of January 2018


Government's move to end mass state house sell-off honours long-standing social contract

John Key's childhood state house on Hollyford Ave in Bryndwr is one of the 2500 state houses no longer to be sold off. ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

John Key's childhood state house on Hollyford Ave in Bryndwr is one of the 2500 state houses no longer to be sold off.

EDITORIAL: Privatising state housing was always an idea that smacked of favouring ideology over good sense.

The National Government's insistence that the private sector would do a better job than the state was based on its ideological bedrock that the free market is always a better choice to serve people's wants and needs.

The market is great at providing people's wants – just wander into any electronics store and marvel at how cheap flat-screen televisions have become in the last five years or so. But it struggles to provide needs when there is little profit to be had.

When a Government runs down its own ability to provide solutions, that is a hint of where ideology is triumphing over pragmatism.

READ MORE:* Government announces end to state home selloff* Editorial: state house sales a failed scheme* Sale of state houses 'regrettable' - Salvation Army

That became clear when the types of agencies the National Government thought would be the natural buyers of 2500 Christchurch state houses, such as the Christchurch Methodist Mission and the Salvation Army, both indicated they disagreed with the policy.

Such opposition from groups who work at the coalface of low-income community needs should have prompted a rethink, but instead the Government turned to Australia to market the properties, which was described by Christchurch doctor and Korowai Youth Well-Being Trust chairwoman Dr Sue Bagshaw​ as selling to "absentee landlords".

Instead of backing down, the Government doubled down on a losing hand – and in September, they also lost the long game.

So it is a relief to see that the new Government has followed through on campaign promises to halt the mass sell-off of state houses. It was a policy that all three coalition members had embraced.

In announcing that up to 2500 state houses in Shirley, Bryndwr and Riccarton would no longer be transferred to new providers, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "Our belief is that housing is at the heart of what makes our community strong, and everyone deserves to have a warm, dry and affordable home."

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Those state houses, more than a third of Housing NZ properties in Christchurch, included the Bryndwr state house that Prime Minister John Key grew up in, which formed part of his rags-to-riches story.

The former Government had already said it would keep another 3900 properties in Parklands, Aranui, Linwood, Spreydon, Hoon Hay and Hornby.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said social housing providers had an important part role to play in housing the needy but "the first and last provider of public housing must be the state".

That gives him the flexibility to sell Housing NZ stock that is not fit for purpose but still draws a line in the sand spelling out that when it comes to the most basic of human needs, the Government must provide.

Given that the former Government's laissez-faire handling of housing issues, from homelessness to runaway unaffordability, became a lightning rod throughout the general election campaign, it seems clear the public supports this stance.

That is the social contract we have been party to for more than the past century and it is right that the commitment has been upheld.

Alastair Paulin is a News Director for Stuff based in Christchurch. This opinion piece appeared as an editorial in The Press on December 21.

 - The Press

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