Housing is a major cost for families, and the shortage of affordable housing is a major contributor to the current cost of welfare. The cost on society of inadequate and unaffordable housing is too high. Financial support for housing is provided through a large number of different, complicated payments. The combined welfare payments for housing make up the second-largest cost after the New Zealand Superannuation Scheme – and more than the spending on any one of the main benefits combined. Housing payments are forecast to be 3.1% of total Crown baseline expenditure in 2018/19. Despite this, we learned that not everyone is receiving their full entitlement, especially once they move off a main benefit.
The inaccessibility of home ownership for low and low–middle income households is a major contributor to the growth of wealth inequality in New Zealand, denying them their only chance of acquiring an asset base. Home ownership rates have fallen to their lowest rate since 1953, and Māori and Pacific families are disproportionately affected.
There are just not enough houses to meet demand. Of the current housing stock, too many are unaffordable for low-income families, and what is available to them is often substandard, poorly insulated, damp and unhealthy. The Government must urgently provide affordable housing options for low-income people. A key part of the solution is for the state to expand and accelerate the building of public housing to an industrial scale, to achieve an adequate number of houses for low-income New Zealanders. Urgent efforts to end homelessness need to continue.
Government needs to increase the variety of home-ownership options, including equity sharing, rent-to-buy state houses, papakāinga housing and other affordable home-ownership products for people on low and low–middle incomes. In addition, government needs to work with third-sector community-based housing providers to create a broader range of ownership and renting options.
In addition to raising main benefit rates to provide an adequate income, ensuring changes are made to abatement rates and subsidised housing costs for people on low incomes will, in combination, make households better off.
The Welfare Expert Advisory Group recommends a new payment for people facing housing costs alone (that is, not sharing accommodation with another adult). Indexing for payments should be maintained, in line with housing costs. Furthermore, legislation should be developed to ensure healthy homes and housing security, decent standards of housing quality, universal design and accessibility.