Last week’s impromptu housing hui at the Waiheke War Memorial Hall was prompted by the realisation that we haven’t solved the island’s dire housing shortage because there hasn’t been the political will to do so.
Of course, at a local level, many of us are, and have been for a long time now, willing and determined to do something about it. Over three hui in as many years, the reports of desperation and deprivation, ugly stories about council fees and zealousness with rules and a hollowing out of the community have been a problem in plain sight.
Housing is not just a commodity, it is a basic human right, Auckland’s MP Chloe Swarbrick (LLB BA) told the meeting, almost apologetically blaming her university training in philosophy for the masterful simplicity.
A right to adequate and secure housing is among the first principles of the UN and the narrative needs to be reconfigured, not as a commodity but as a human right, essential to the human need to put down roots, take care of its own wellbeing, address problems like truancy collaboratively and to repair the damage in terms of lost participation.
Security in housing needed to be put on a values base, said the MP who represents the inner city and island constituency where 60 percent of residents are renters with a high rate of transience and a churn of properties available.
“We need enough houses, a system, rules and an economy that incentivises housing.
Paul Carew of the Waiheke housing initiative, which recently accomplished a single Onetangi building to house three households against enormous odds and compliance expenses, was equally clear.
“We don’t have a housing shortage,” he said. “We have a housing distribution shortage.”
Building costs are running at $4000 a square metre and a lot of it doesn’t make sense, he said. “It is estimated that Waiheke needs an extra 300 houses but 50 percent of houses here are now vacant – nine out of ten of them in Onetangi.”
The meeting addressed the fundamental disparities driven by much higher housing costs and a council system that has systemised a set of District Plan exclusions that can be applied to high-end developer interests but that are not available to Aucklanders operating in the community space (ie, the rest of us).
In the meantime, Carew said, the council remained fixated on what was wrong with relocatable homes and small-scale solutions, with resource consent for a caravan running out at $4000.
“We need a single, committed voice and it shouldn’t be so difficult. It is practical, doable, reasonable,” he said.
The housing issue is showing up as a fundamental one for the current City and local board elections which have the power to at least challenge the enormous weight of the Auckland Council operation.
There is nothing God-given in the housing issue as it’s playing out at present. We’ve built ourselves out of depressions before and even the lessons of the global financial crisis 10 years ago show that where we put government money in a meltdown will make the difference between moving forward or many years of a depleted and distressed community.
“Just as a fish can’t taste the water it swims in, it is hard for citizens in affluent societies to notice just how weird their culture has become,” Australian commentator Richard Denniss says in his cheerfully compelling Curing Affluenza: how to buy less stuff and save the world.
Culture shapes behaviour, as he said, and culture can turn on a dime if we choose. A culture of keeping the needs of others in the frame isn’t so hard.
Not least since we currently have a choice of future mayor. Statesman-like front-runner Efeso Collins most clearly sets out to reinvent a future that we could be proud of. A clear political mandate to make housing fairer, in tandem with a government that was elected resoundingly to reset social justice, restore kindness and balance out the last 30 years of rampant inequality and a political distaste for taking care of all citizens, including the young.
His aspirational promise of a council that’s inclusive, collaborative and willing to listen to all perspectives sits well with free transport where all walks of life rub shoulders, at least sometimes. If the city’s voters also cast careful ballots for local board candidates who can take on and nurture those same values, regardless of party allegiances, it really might happen. • Liz Waters
Editor: Further community election meetings are planned for coming weeks. See dates and our continuing coverage of candidate views in this issue from page 13