On the 16th of August at Ethos Café, a group of concerned citizens gathered together to discuss the housing shortfall in Hamilton and some of the actions that could be taken to address this issue.
Stories were shared, including the challenge of finding rental accommodation in Hamilton. Rental house showings at the more affordable end of the scale typically involve a crowd of about 30, all competing with each other for somewhat dismal rental options. It’s slim pickings, and it’s stressful. Some people are attempting to navigate this market while living in motels. Work and Income appears to have no other housing options at hand and, based on the stories that were shared, they do not assist people to find the housing that they need. There appears to be a lack of this kind of service in town, a gap left when Housing New Zealand closed its front-line services.
The landscape of housing in New Zealand has shifted so drastically that people are sleeping in motels, cars or on the street, and there a considerable lack of affordable housing and rental accommodation available. This is the cruel reality of a housing provision that rests in the hands of private individuals who now own more of the houses for rent. Most households who rent, do so from the private sector (84%). Private landlords are not accountable to us (the public). The government has backed out of being a housing provider, and the void of provision is hurting.
The reality is, those who already bear the brunt of structural inequities are suffering because the private rental market offers very little security. The quality of rental accommodation is another story. People who are lucky enough to find a rental know that the general rule of thumb is don’t bother your landlord, because there is a good chance he’ll fine someone else to rent his place. Suck it up and carry on.
So what are we to do? This is where it gets tricky. The community can pick up the pieces. It already does. There is a certainly a need for action, and our discussion group at Ethos Café came up with quite a list of possibilities (see below). But in all of this, it’s important to remember that a lack of housing for the most vulnerable of us is not some natural phenomenon or simply a result of poor choices…goodness knows we’ve all made those! A lack of suitable accommodation in our city, and nation, is a result of policies that are failing us.
Housing provision left largely to a market controlled by those that have more than others is not providing for the most vulnerable of us. The lack of adequate housing provision is an unacceptable reality. At the very top of our list of actions is advocacy – advocacy for polices that ensure everyone has a decent roof over their head and a sense of security. Housing security for everyone is the makings of an Aotearoa New Zealand that we can all be proud of.
The list of Actions – Join us to hear more about these on Wednesday August 30th, 11am at Ethos Cafe (formerly Just Food Cafe).
- Create a local State Housing Action Network.
- Protest – Park up for Homes – we’ve done this already, but we need to keep doing it because the reality has got worse, not better.
- Set up a network of ‘Social Justice Renters’. These are good folk who would be willing to rent their homes to people who are living on next to nothing, because they care to give people at the roughest end of things the best chance possible.
- Home Share. This is an initiative that is working elsewhere in the world (like in Vermont, USA). It’s basically like a dating agency for people living in homes that are bigger than they need, matching them together with people that need a room, so that housing can be better utilised and shared. Sometimes, for older people, these initiatives mean they can stay in their homes a little longer and they get the social support they need.
- A Tenant’s Protection Association, like the groups they have in Auckland and in Christchurch. The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services is keen to help us do this.
- Squatting – Having houses sit vacant while people live in cars and on the street makes no sense.
- Home ownership programmes. A group of us are exploring setting up a trust to buy houses in partnership with people who can pay rent but can’t get the deposit required.
- Co-housing. There is a group working to get this going in Hamilton. Contact Sam from SHAMA if you would like to know more about this: firstname.lastname@example.org.