Labour would use NGOs to cover emergency housing shortfall

Andrew Little said a Labour government would increase spending on emergency housing by $15 million a year to allow NGOs to build or buy accommodation. With special feature audio.

Labour Party leader Andrew Little has unveiled a new plank in the opposition party's housing policy, saying he would use non-government organisations to cover a shortfall in emergency housing that would almost treble the number of beds available.

In a policy announced just before the anniversary of the party's centenary, Mr Little said a Labour government would increase spending on emergency housing by $15 million a year to allow NGOs to build or buy accommodation. That level of funding would be enough to provide for 1400 new beds, lifting the total number available to 2200 from 800 at present.

"This policy – along with Labour's plans to launch a massive state-backed affordable house building programme and build more state houses rather than sell them off – will help end homelessness in New Zealand," Mr Little said in a statement. "The homeless are the sharp end of the government's housing crisis."

The package forms part of a broader housing package that would see an increase in state house numbers, stricter health quality criteria for rental property, and a major building programme of affordable houses.

The government, like the Reserve Bank, has been struggling to come to grips with a housing market buoyed by rapid net inbound migration and a shortage of supply in the country's biggest city, Auckland. Although Housing Minister Nick Smith has said he wants to skew the market in favour of first home buyers, ministers have resisted calls to enact policies that bring down prices, instead preferring a slower pace of increases.

Prime Minister John Key this week said he would support a move to introduce more tools, with rising prices seen as restraining governor Graeme Wheeler from cutting interest rates further. Reserve Bank deputy governor Grant Spencer will deliver a speech this evening on macroprudential tools and risks posed by the housing market, and some commentators anticipate more lending restrictions will be announced to try to slow property price increases.

On top of that, a growing number of people living in cars and on the streets prompted the government to inject $41.1 million to boost emergency accommodation in the May budget, which would cater for about 3000 people a year.

Labour's policy would house 5100 people a year, saying there are estimated to be 4200 people sleeping rough or in cars at any given time, and that because of a lack of space it takes more than 155 days to house a homeless person.

In a fact sheet accompanying the announcement, Labour said it will work with NGOs to ensure homeless people stay housed and can access the services they need, echoing the wraparound social services touted by the government as a more effective way of dealing with the most vulnerable and first flagged through the Maori Party's Whanau Ora policy.

"The government must support the work of emergency housing providers by making sure essential wraparound services such as addiction, mental health and budgeting are made available," Labour said.


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