Marama Davidson Speech - A Home for Everyone

A decent home is the foundation to a decent life. To be warm and dry in your home is a human right.

In a country like Aotearoa, where we have the resources, there are no excuses to deny anyone that right.

Three weeks ago, when we announced the Green Party’s Income Guarantee, we said that poverty is a political choice.

And we choose to end it.

The housing crisis is also a political choice.

For decades, politicians have chosen to enable housing speculation that drives up prices, making home ownership an unattainable dream for more and more families.

They have chosen to let landlords get away with charging through the roof for homes that literally leak through the roof.

And to encourage expensive sprawling suburbs choked by traffic instead of affordable, accessible homes in vibrant communities close to where people work and study.

But the time is now to make a different choice.

Today, here in Pōneke, I am going to outline the Green Party’s pledge to renters.

Fair and affordable rent. Warm, dry, accessible homes. And enforceable rules for landlords. 

Together with our Income Guarantee, the housing policy we are announcing today will end poverty in Aotearoa.

***

One and a half million people in Aotearoa rent their home. About one in every three households.

For Māori, just over half rent their home and for Pasifika, 65% rent their home - compared with 36% of the total population. 

A quarter of households who rent their home have to pay more than 40% of their income in rent.

They are families, students, and retired people. Workers and parents. Children and grandparents. 

Some are doing it unacceptably tough. 

Right now, there are far too many people living with the constant stress of not knowing whether or not they will be able to pay the rent. 

Others are making it work, but sky high rents mean saving for a deposit on a first home is impossible.

Hundreds of thousands of people are forced to pay through the roof to live in cold, damp, and unhealthy homes that are making them sick. 

This is not an accident: successive governments have designed this system, and the system is not working.

***

The Green Party is proud to have supported steps to improve the lives of people who rent over the last five years.

Basic, little things like the right to put up curtains and hang your family photos on the wall of your home.

Thanks to the Healthy Homes Standards, we have nationwide, bare minimum quality standards for rental homes.

But they are not enough. They are not enforced. There are too many loopholes and exemptions.

And the Government doesn’t even know how many rental properties meet the Healthy Homes Standards.

Of the few compliance checks that have been done, more than half the homes failed.

The system is weighted in favour of landlords. Renters who want to see the rules enforced have to spend time and money taking their landlord to the Tenancy Tribunal.

And when they do that, they risk being denied a reference when they apply for their next home.

Only the Green Party is committed to fixing this power imbalance.

Thanks to changes we have supported the Government to make, renters have certainty that their rent won’t rise more than once a year.

But when landlords do raise rents, there’s no fair standard to guide that.

Again, the burden falls on renters to prove that a rent rise is unreasonable.

And if other rents are being hiked up too, then obviously the market average will rise. It’s a self-perpetuating system that sees too many people priced out of their home.

Forced to find a new place to live. Move their kids to a different school. Or face a longer commute to work.

And meanwhile, the landlord can raise the rent even more for new tenants, despite the property being exactly the same.

Now, credit where credit is due.

Under this Government, with the Greens’ support, Kāinga Ora is building more new public homes than it has for over a generation.

They are warm and dry and energy efficient, and they are giving more people than ever before the foundation for a decent life: a decent home. 

But it is not enough.

In my work in the homelessness portfolio, I see first hand the effect of the housing shortage. 

We are supporting people into housing, and wrapping around social services to help them get back on their feet.

But the most important thing we can do to solve homelessness is build more homes.

Now is the time for a step change in how the Government supports home building.

Because while other political parties try to balance the right to a decent home with the demands of property speculators, only the Green Party pledges to be the political voice for people who rent and people without a home at all.

***

The Green Party's Pledge to Renters is a simple set of enforceable rules that will guarantee everyone a safe, healthy, and affordable place to make their own.

Firstly, we will cap rent increases, so more of your income can go towards other essentials.

Secondly, we will introduce a Rental Warrant of Fitness so your home is always warm and dry.

We will get thousands of homes built quickly and affordably, by embracing offsite manufacturing.

We will support councils, Māori and community housing providers to play their part.

And we will change the rules to prioritise energy efficient building and accessible design - for density that delivers for people and the planet.

Labour has taken small steps on all these things, but the scale of the housing crisis demands much more.

With more Green MPs elected this year, and more Green Ministers around the Cabinet table, we will introduce a Renters Rights Bill to honour our Renters Pledge within the first 100 days of the new government.

***

Here in Pōneke, the average rent is $584 a week. 

One in five renting households in Pōneke pay more than 50% of their weekly income on rent.

More than half their pay-cheques.

And so the first part of the Green Party’s pledge to renters is to set a cap on rent increases.

This cap will never be higher than three percent, the upper limit of the Reserve Bank’s inflation target.

Landlords will not be allowed to raise rents beyond this limit, unless they’ve made substantial improvements to a home.

And I’m not talking a lick of paint, I mean a whole new kitchen.

The rent cap will apply to the property, not the tenancy agreement. 

Currently, there’s nothing stopping landlords from using new tenancies to significantly increase rent, even if the fair value of the property hasn’t changed. 

This has a particularly big impact on people who move frequently, like students looking for a home at the start of the year.

Our Renters Pledge will mean landlords won’t be able to hike up the rent between tenancies, giving new tenants a fairer deal. 

Landlords will be required to tell new tenants how much rent the previous tenants in a property paid, and any increase for the new tenants would still need to be within the annual rent cap.

Reasonable rents do more than just keep living costs manageable, they also enable people to stay in the same home for longer. 

This helps families put down roots in communities and be part of their neighbourhoods. 

Tamariki can stay in the same schools, which helps contribute to better learning and stronger belonging. 

And stable housing helps support stable employment.

Landlords also benefit from secure, long-term tenants who have an extra interest in looking after properties because they want to keep living there.

***

Now, there is no reason why renting should mean settling for a lower quality home.

But time and time again, data shows that rental properties are more likely to be mouldy, draughty, and damp.

Unhealthy homes put 1,800 people a year in hospital. That is a disgrace.

The Healthy Homes Standards were an attempt to address this. But they are not being enforced.

Well, the time is now to change that.

The Green Party’s Rental Warrant of Fitness will be a regulatory checklist of criteria across the Healthy Homes Standards, as well as other relevant health, building, and fire safety requirements.

Things like extending minimum temperature requirements to include bedrooms.

Whenever a tenancy agreement is signed, an independently assessed compliance certificate will need to be included. This will give people who rent peace of mind that the homes they are signing up to pay for and live in are safe and won’t make them sick.

Alongside the Rental Warrant of Fitness, we will establish a register of rental properties, their owners, and any intermediaries like property managers. 

This will enable renters to track the amount of rent charged for a property over time. It will give a much better idea of how the rental market is operating, and whether a property meets the Warrant of Fitness standard. 

If a landlord keeps breaking the rules, they could be struck off the register.

We know that many landlords provide a good service to their tenants. But the truth is, some don’t. And no one is keeping track. This is harming people. 

The Green Party pledges to improve oversight and accountability. Because to be warm and dry in your home is a human right.

***

Now, here in Pōneke, your city council resisted the pressure from central government to sell its public houses for many years.

Your elected councillors - shout out to Tamatha Paul, your next Green MP for Wellington Central - know that councils are part of the solution for providing affordable homes. 

But the system has been designed to discriminate against people who live in council housing.

A low income person in council housing does not qualify for the government’s income related rent subsidy, which caps rents at 25% of income. 

But a person with the same low income who lives in housing owned by a community housing provider does.

It was a malicious, ideological rule set by a National Government to try and push councils to sell the homes they were providing for their communities.

For community housing providers, income related rent helps provide crucial long-term financing. 

But without this, councils have been forced to choose between raising rents or selling homes.

The Green Party will ensure that income related rent places are funded for council housing and that community housing providers have what they need to provide long-term, secure homes to their tenants.

Because we understand that it will take all of us - government, councils, community housing providers, iwi, and yes, private developers and landlords too - working together to solve the housing crisis.

***

The scale of the housing crisis has been decades in the making.

Kāinga Ora is now delivering more homes than ever before: about 1,300 a year on average, more than any time since the 1970s.

Aotearoa needs a long-term commitment from every political party to ramp up the building programme for public, community, Māori-led and private housing. 

Public housing is as crucial to wellbeing as public education or public healthcare.

But Budget 23 only locked in one more year of funding for building public housing. 

The Green Party will supercharge the Kāinga Ora build programme through more funding and secure long-term contracts.

We will direct Kāinga Ora to enter more long term offsite manufacturing contracts to build high-quality homes quickly, including with smaller local suppliers and Māori-owned businesses.

Stable contracts and long-term partnerships will enable the Government to smooth out boom-bust building cycles, maintaining the scale of home-building and keeping people's jobs and livelihoods. 

For example, a building company that might be considering scaling down because of high interest rates and a potential economic downturn, could instead maintain and grow their capacity with the confidence that Kāinga Ora will be buying their products every year for at least the next ten years.

As well as working in partnership with the construction sector, Kāinga Ora will partner with community housing providers to support them.

We will build on the Government’s buying off the plans initiative to provide a financial underwrite for community housing developments, unlocking crucial finance for more homes.

For iwi and Māori housing providers, we will scale up the Whai Kāinga Whai Oranga programme with an extra $200 million and ensure that the Government provides funding to support by Māori for Māori approaches.

We know that mātauranga Māori offers many solutions on how to create healthy, connected and inclusive communities. 

But for too long, Māori have been denied the tools and support to provide housing for their own communities.

The effects of land loss through colonisation, confiscation, legislation, and infrastructure deficits prevent Māori from being able to meet their housing needs.

The Government’s Kāinga Whenua loan programme is under review and next term, we will ensure the outcome of that review removes the roadblocks to papakāinga developments on whenua Māori.

***

Now, building homes builds communities.

Scaling up housing density in places where people already live, and communities already thrive, is the quickest and most affordable way to provide new homes. 

We also know that based on new evidence from the University of Auckland, enabling increased density and upzoning in existing urban areas can reduce rents.

For decades, urban planning has made it easier to sprawl into the outskirts than to develop more housing in existing urban areas. 

This increases emissions - and commute times to work and school - and displaces families from the communities where they already have roots. 

And it paves over the land we need to grow the food that feeds us.

The Government has tried to get better density rules, but they were a rushed compromise between other political parties.

I want to acknowledge Eugenie Sage and Julie Anne Genter - the next Green MP for Rongotai - who pushed for practical improvements to the housing density rules to guarantee green space, protect urban trees, and making sure all new housing developments can have local shops and community services.

Next term, the Green Party will build off the current rules and introduce bonuses for housing developments that are built to universal  design standards for accessibility, and have high energy efficiency, warm and dry, HomeStar 7 ratings.

New apartment buildings that meet these criteria will be allowed to build up to a third higher than they would otherwise.

It will improve the quality and quantity of new housing, and address the shortage of accessible homes for people with disabilities. 

Using our collective resources to build homes that work for everyone.

As Julie Anne said when Parliament debated the MDRS, we want our planning rules to make it easy to do the things that will have good outcomes. It really is that simple.

***

The plan we have outlined today builds on progress made over the last few years.

But change has not happened fast enough. 

Ko tēnei te wa - the time is now for a housing plan that meets the scale of the challenge.

Only the Green Party is stepping up to end poverty in Aotearoa, with our Pledge to Renters alongside our Income Guarantee.

Only the Green Party will introduce a Rental Warrant of Fitness so your home is always warm and dry.

And only the Green Party will show the political leadership necessary to cap rent increases, so more of your income can go towards other essentials.

With your support to elect more Green MPs this year, within the first 100 days of the new government we will introduce a Renters Rights Bill to honour our Pledge to Renters.

Ko te whare e hanga te tangata, ko te tangata e hangaia e te whare.

The house builds the people and the people build the house.

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