Today Andrew Little’s Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill will get its first reading in Parliament. It requires all tenancy agreements to guarantee that the property being let meets minimum standards for heating and insulation, to be set by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
The Government doesn’t like this bill. The Minister for Housing, Nick Smith, is especially concerned that imposing such standards will result in a large number of rental properties being removed from the market. And by “especially” I mean he mentions it a lot.
In 2014 he announced a Housing Warrant of Fitness trial, but warned
We need to be cautious of removing houses from the rental market when there is a shortage.
removing them from the housing stock would cause a major housing shortage.
And just this week, he railed against Little’s bill, for a familiar reason.
“It requires properties to be insulated at a pace that is totally unrealistic and would simply involve properties being removed from the rental market at the very time we’re having shortages of homes.”
If you’re getting the impression that Nick Smith is more concerned about the profit margins of landlords who own substandard housing than he does about ensuring every New Zealander has a warm, dry home to live in, you’re not alone.
And this tells you something pretty sinister about his and the National Party’s priorities and perspective on housing.
Because every time I hear Tories claim that implementing basic standards for houses people have to live in is terrible because it would “remove” hundreds of rental properties from the market, I do a little word substitution. It’s highly illuminating.
“We can’t pass this food hygiene law, it would remove heaps of [poisonous] food from the supermarkets!”
“We can’t pass this car standards law, it would remove hundreds of cars [which have NO BRAKES] from the roads!”
“This law regulating indoor heaters is terrible, it will stop people being able to buy heaters which will literally explode!”
Because what National leave unspoken, every single time, is the fact that these properties are not properties fit for human habitation. This isn’t Paula Bennett’s mythical beneficiary, turning up their nose at a free house because the birds are too loud. We’re talking about water oozing down the walls, curtains turning black with mold and children dying from preventable illnesses.
To say that it’s acceptable for people to live in these conditions because “the market”, and the government, have failed to provide adequate housing is appalling. You don’t tell people, “sure this car has no brakes but it’s the only one left and you have to drive it.”
But that’s what National are telling us: if you are poor, you should be grateful for any housing, even if it’s cold, damp and literally killing your children. When they say heating and insulation standards are impractical, they’re saying nothing can be allowed to get in the way of landlords profiting off people who have no other options.
No one wants to live in a cold, damp, moldy rental. They’re forced to, because wages are too low, houses are too expensive, and people need to live somewhere. But there’s money to be made exploiting that need, and when the choice is between ensuring everyone has a decent standard of living, or letting a greedy few keep on making money, we know which way the National Party will go.