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Will Social Housing Reform Affect Those Needing Accessible Housing?

January 9, 2018

Kiwis saving money and searching for their first home may have let out a hopeful sigh of relief when the new Labour and NZ First coalition government was formed with support from the Green Party. But what effect, if any, will the government’s fresh approach to housing have on those requiring accessible housing?

KiwiBuild begins

It’s still early days, but things are looking good for those struggling in the face of a housing crisis – first home-buyers, the homeless, low-income families, the ageing population and those with reduced mobility. The new government has made good on two housing-related first 100 day promises.

In the days leading up to Christmas 2017, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford announced the government had begun to implement their KiwiBuild programme. Steps are being taken to form an urban development authority (to be called the Housing Commission), which plans to build 100,000 affordable houses.

“It will take at least a year to formally establish the urban development authority,” says Mr Twyford.

“That’s why we’ve set up an interim KiwiBuild Unit within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment so we can get cracking now while the legislation to establish the Housing Commission is developed.”

Mr Twyford says New Zealand’s housing market has failed to deliver affordable homes, and that the KiwiBuild programme will help create a step-change in the housing and construction sector.


Sale of state houses halted

More good news for the aforementioned vulnerable groups also came in December, when the government said they were cancelling the sell-off of state houses begun by National.

Citing Christchurch as an example of who this change will impact, Mr Twyford explained that tenants of 2,500 state houses in the garden city, who had been told they were likely to have a new landlord by mid-2018, would receive letters before Christmas, telling them their homes would not be sold.

“I’m pleased these families will be able to enjoy Christmas without the uncertainty this sale would create.

“Community housing providers have an important role to play in housing those in need, but the first and last provider of public housing must be the state,” Mr Twyford offered.


Little word of provisions for ageing population and individuals with reduced mobility

Despite this reassuring news and talk of a modernisation programme by Housing NZ that will increase numbers of warm, dry and healthy state houses, there has been little-to-no mention of the housing needs of individuals with reduced mobility and the rapidly increasing ageing population

With all the change in the air, it’s disappointing for many that the government isn’t taking the opportunity to heed the advice of several organisations to help increase the stock of accessible housing.

CCS Disability Action became vocal about the issue in November, when Chief Executive, David Matthews said that there is strong evidence of a “significant undersupply of accessible private homes and social housing.”

Highlighting the positive, Matthews said, “The good news is we have a tried and tested New Zealand-based solution in Lifemark® standards. This, combined with the opportunity that the government’s KiwiBuild project presents makes this the perfect time to address this issue.”

Matthews dismissed any notions that accessible housing is an unaffordable and niche issue in saying, “Universal design is as equally applicable to first homes as it is to forever homes. Considering the use of a home over a lifetime, rather than retrofitting to meet individual’s changing needs, makes good financial sense.”


Not a new issue

Colleen Brown, chair of Auckland group Disability Connect, says a lack of accessible housing was noted as a national concern as long ago as 2001.

She says it is especially difficult for young people with disabilities who have applied for social housing because they are often still living with their parents, and as a result their application is passed over because their situation isn’t deemed ‘bad enough’.

“I can't understand how the Ministry of Housing can go down a track of encouraging them to live their own lives in the community, and yet there is nowhere really for them to go,” Brown says.


The squeaky wheel gets the grease

So, while is appears that the only upside to the change of government and their social housing reform so far is the promise of increased housing stock, it remains a space to be watched. More pressure from groups like IHC, Disability Connect and CCS Disability Action will perhaps make accessible housing the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.



New Zealand Parliament and the Beehive by PaulSouthWales under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Wheelchair Access Sign by WELS net under CC BY-NC 2.0

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Filed under Building codes and standards \ Residential lifts

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