More calls for action on housing

New Zealand's human rights watchdog has added its voice to those calling for drastic action to tackle New Zealand's housing problems.

Chief human rights commissioner David Rutherford said today all political parties should make a cross-party accord to tackle the "very serious" issues of adequate housing in this country.

His comments followed a warning by the Reserve Bank this week that Government needed to do more to dampen demand in the face of increasing housing pressures.

Mr Rutherford said the housing issues in New Zealand were "many and varied" and there was no co-ordinated plan to address them.

"We're seeing housing issues being talked about as separate issues when in fact they need to be addressed as a whole: housing affordability in Auckland and Canterbury, the provision of adequate housing in Northland, South Auckland and other places throughout the country, which would reduce the incidence of childhood illnesses due to cold, damp, overcrowded accommodation, and the call for more of our elderly to be cared for in homes which are in many cases likely to be unsuitable for elderly habitation to name just a few of the issues."

He said the human right to adequate housing was a binding legal obligation for the state, which meant the Government had a duty to protect this right and a responsibility to provide remedies.

Mr Rutherford said it would take decades to solve myriad problems but immediate action was needed, beginning with a cross-party accord.

"We have had a talkfest about these issues for over 30 years, mainly centred on how many State-owned houses should or should not be built.

"In that time, a state like Singapore has surpassed New Zealand in providing adequate housing and that in turn has led to higher levels of wealth and health in Singapore than New Zealand."

The Green Party hailed the Chief Commissioner's message, saying a lack of action was denying New Zealanders the basic human right of adequate housing.

"The Government's do-nothing approach hasn't worked," housing spokesman Kevin Hague said. "It is time for all parties to put their political colours aside and work together to find enduring solutions to the housing crisis."

The Reserve Bank said on Wednesday that house price inflation had risen by 17 per cent in the last year, and the gap between incomes and prices was widening, especially in Auckland.

Among the bank's recommendations were tighter rules for property investors and fresh consideration of policy measures to address "the tax-preferred status of housing, especially investor-related housing".

A lobby group representing investors said today the Reserve Bank had missed the point.

The Auckland Property Investors Association's Andrew Bruce said Auckland's Achilles' heel had always been the undersupply of housing.

"The persistent price-climb and the inevitable sidelining of first-home-buyers that is repugnant to so many Kiwis are the direct consequences of this shortage."

He said singling out the "tax-preferred status of housing" was a "political cop-out" that dodged the real issues, and Government should instead focus on making Auckland more development-friendly.

Isaac Davison, NZ Herald 

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