Teuila Fuatai: Government Kainga Ora state house policy not solving unruly neighbour issue

OPINION:

Like a lot of people, the housing crisis has been a constant throughout my adult life.

The endless stream of “how tos” around saving for a home. Alongside advice about working harder to get there, despite the fact that’s not what determines accessibility to the market.

Come down a level and there’s the challenges of renting. Competition is high, as are rents, so finding somewhere secure and liveable can be a job in itself.

Then there’s the lack of options for those who can’t get into the private market. Where accommodation shortages have resulted in a state home waitlist of 25,000 and myriad questions around one of the country’s most severe social problems.

Similar to other all-encompassing issues, framing of the discussion and connected solutions come in different forms.

There’s the relentless advocacy of organisations like the Salvation Army, which move between working with families and communities to pushing for better policy.

Time and time again, they connect gaps on the front lines to clear shortfalls in the system. Better benefits, wraparound services, more resources, access to appropriate support that actually caters to those who need it make up a seemingly evergreen list of required changes.

Other times it comes in high-level policy advice directly requested by the Government.

Who can forget the efforts of its own Tax Working Group around a capital gains tax a few years back. Despite finding it would assist in cooling the market, the policy (and the group’s work) didn’t go anywhere.

More recently, the spotlight’s been on the Government’s handling of “unruly” state house tenants. That is, folks who live in Kāinga Ora housing but behave in a way which threatens and disrespects those living around them.

These include:

• An elderly Whangārei couple who now have a security check five times a day due to extreme antisocial behaviour from Kāinga Ora tenants in the neighbouring property. Police have also served the neighbouring tenants with a trespass notice for their behaviour, while Kāinga Ora have halved the elderly couple’s rent and pay for weekly counselling sessions because of the stress around unsafe living situations.

• A woman subjected to months of violent threats, sexual harassment and aggressive and intimidating behaviour from fellow Kāinga Ora tenants. The Tenancy Tribunal ordered the agency to pay $5000 in compensation as the landlord.

• A young family who sold their home after becoming fed up with abusive and violent behaviour from the neighbouring Kāinga Ora property. The family and other residents said they’d complained repeatedly to the agency about the behaviour. Nothing changed and after 12 months, they decided to sell.

All are extreme situations, which no one should have to deal with.

For those tenants like the elderly couple in Whangārei, it’s meant living somewhere they feel unsafe and have been advised to move from. But, as they rightly reasoned when interviewed by the Herald, why should they have to leave when they’re not doing anything wrong?

From Kāinga Ora, and the Government’s perspective, there’s been a clear theme of maintaining tenancies as it’s the right thing to do. Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams has repeatedly said that while the behaviour is unacceptable, relocating problematic tenants did not solve anything, and often disregarded the needs of children in those families. It could also add to more homelessness rather than reduce it, she said.

The stance has led to significant criticism over the Government’s lack of action and questions around why behaviour – reported as illegal, violent and linked to gangs – is tolerated in Kāinga Ora properties. The rallying call being “evict the culprits”.

It’s a state of affairs which highlights how counterproductive things have become. On the one hand, no one should have to live with neighbours who are abusive, violent and destructive. On the other, these are the very types of situations and tenants linked to the most severe social and housing inequities we’re living with. Removing those individuals, or calling the police, will not fix that. Neither will an unofficial policy that keeps them in homes regardless of how they treat the property and those around them.

So, rather than rolling into another year of the same non-sensical standpoints, why not look at what’s really missing in these severe state housing situations? Why the current support and resources don’t really work for anyone and what an alternative could be?

Because, at this point, scraping at the status quo will only result in more harm and taxpayer money spent without much to show for it.

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