A recurring question in New Zealand’s housing policy debate is: how many social houses do we need? This is a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question, because to answer it we need to first consider some other questions. Questions such as: what is an acceptable standard of housing for every New Zealander? What level of support can we afford as taxpayers and citizens to assist people who are homeless or with serious unmet housing need? How is it best to assist such people? This paper does not attempt to answer these questions—in part because they are political and decided by political discourse, ideologies and elections. Instead, this paper aims to inform this discourse by investigating the extent and nature of demand for social housing in New Zealand. In doing so, the paper offers some conceptual ideas around how we might frame housing need and identifies that part of the New Zealand population most at risk of housing-related poverty. By identifying such a population we can then get some idea of who makes up this population and its approximate size. This paper likely poses more questions than it answers, but in doing so the hope is to support a more informed debate around social housing and for readers to grasp the potential for social housing to be transformative in many New Zealanders’ lives.
Summary and Conclusions
The Salvation Army estimates that New Zealand will need to build between 2000 and 2500 additional social houses each year, for at least the next decade. The present New Zealand stock of 82,000 social housing units houses needs to be expanded to over 100,000 over the next decade, says The Salvation Army. Almost half of the increase in social housing needs to be in Auckland
The current Government social building programme has allocated $36m a year for the next four years. At a maximum this will provide only 90 additional houses a year. The Government will need to increase its effort by at least 20 times to meet the predicted need identified by The Salvation Army in this report. This requires a major rethink of Government priorities.
In its prediction of social housing need The Salvation Army argues that the assumption that most social housing tenants will be able to transition to other types of housing is not borne out in practice. Many social housing tenants will need this type of housing for most if not all of their lives given their personal circumstances, lifetime income and the likely housing cost in high demand areas of New Zealand.
The “Taking Stock” report identifies 150,000 working age people and 190,000 over 65s who form the base of people who will need social housing. Not all these people will require social housing, some will be able to find adequate housing with the support of the Accommodation Supplement or family. However this still leaves a residue of families who will need social housing, requiring a social housing build of between 2000 and 2500 a year.
There will be a high demand for social housing in Auckland, Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Marlborough and Nelson. Outside of these high priority regions there will be a steady demand in most other regions for the next decade, The Salvation Army says.