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ACT and Greens urge action, not rhetoric, over housing

Christchurch houses
The Human Rights Commission released the findings of its two-year inquiry into housing on Thursday (file image). Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Politicians on the left and right are at odds over a new housing report, but agree that what is really needed is getting more homes built.

The Human Rights Commission released the findings of its two-year inquiry into housing on Thursday, which found while governments over 50 years had agreed to the right to decent housing, not enough had been done.

Too many people were still living in cold, damp and mouldy homes, it said, recommending housing as a human right be enshrined in New Zealand law, and a new housing watchdog be set up.

Renters United president Geordie Rogers told RNZ such a watchdog would be helpful.

"There's very little oversight in terms of how the government actually delivers on housing and we commonly see people trying to make the claim that housing has to be delivered while also delivering a profit, and that's just not what we should be doing ... we need to make sure people are housed, first and foremost.

He said several governments' lack of response to the housing crisis amounted to an act of negligence. While the Healthy Homes Standards had been "fantastic" in showing what a healthy home should look like, he said they lacked enforcement.

"What we end up seeing is people who are paying over half their income on rent for a home that is actively making them sick and then costing them more money in the long term with things like hospital bills and time off work."

They had spoken to ministers about those experiences but been told it did not match the data, he said.

"When you talk to people very single day and you understand the experiences that they're going through and you understand the difficulty that the government has with collecting data from real people, it's very very annoying to hear that the experiences that your members are having are not valid and not recognised by the government because they care more about the experiences of people with more money and wealth complaining about not being able to make homes affordable or safe to live in."

What the Human Rights Commission was calling for was recognition that people deserved to live in a warm, dry home - something other countries had already done, he said.

But ACT leader David Seymour argued the commission's recommendations would make little difference where it mattered.

"New Zealanders - and particularly, poorer New Zealanders - need and deserve serious supply side reform in the way that land use is planned, infrastructure is funded and financed, and buildings have their quality assurance done so that they can be more innovative building techniques.

"None of that is new. And none of that is in any way assisted by this latest waste-of-money doorstop which seems to come out of the government on an almost daily basis.

"What we need is a government that stops the waste sets the bureaucrats that don't produce anything, it actually gets down to the practical problem solving of how do we ensure New Zealand becomes a first-world country again."

ACT Party leader David Seymour.
ACT leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT has long had a policy of abolishing the Human Rights Commission, and Seymour said the call for another watchdog was just one useless organisation proposing the creation of another.

"I could have told you that in any interview at any time, in the last nine years that I've been in Parliament," he said.

"I don't know why anyone thinks the Human Rights Commission wasting money and time for two years was a justifiable use of taxpayer funds to come to the same conclusion that a good fifth-form economics student could have reached.

"I think when people are really struggling to make ends meet, this kind of wasteful navel-gazing by a totally out-of-touch Wellington managerial class of pseudo-bureaucrats called the Human Rights Commission is just infuriating."

He also criticised the report's call for a te ao Māori-based approach to accountability on housing.

"This constant focus on pretending that my Māori ancestors - in the 500 or 600 years they lived in isolation in New Zealand invented particularly special insights that should be given the level of emphasis that many government departments currently do [give them] is a nonsense.

"It's one of the things that is holding New Zealand back from being inclusive of all humanity and solving problems in a practical way using the best knowledge available."

Green Party Housing Spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March welcomed the report, saying it was yet another voice calling for housing to be treated as a human right.

"We have had advocates for many years fighting for improved protections for tenants, but we're pleased to see the Human Rights Commission adding to the growing number of voices calling for housing to be treated as a human right."

Ricardo Menendez March in Select Committee.
Ricardo Menendez March in Select Committee. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

He supported the commission's recommendations, including the greater oversight offered by a new watchdog, but said more important was the need to build more public housing and add rent controls.

"It's a matter of political will whether we want to treat housing as a human right or not, and we need to elevate it beyond the rhetoric and abstract comments."

Emergency housing also needed to be reviewed, he said, because those in it "effectively have no rights ... in the nature of having any sort of tenancy agreements".