Christchurch social housing and Manus/Nauru Island Detention Centres

Manus Island and Nauru Island. Two equatorial islands. One is a part of Papua New Guinea (Manus Island) and the other an island nation 21km². Each with a Detention Centre on them. Two detention centres that are home to a mix of refugees fleeing some of the worlds worst conflicts, asylum seekers being hounded by their Government and criminal overflow from Australia’s prisons.

The environment is tropical, with high heat and humidity, tropical downpours, snakes. Because of the sandy soils of the island, there is little holding capacity in the soil for groundwater, which means when drought breaks out there is severe and sometimes crippling water shortages.

The mix of detainees who inhabit the facilities on top of these soils should never have been here in the first place. They occupy immigration facilities set up by Australian authorities, determined that no asylum seeker, refugee or other person who did not arrive through official processes should ever reach the Australian mainland.

Broadspectrum are a subsidiary of Spanish company Ferrovial. They run the Manus and Nauru Island facilities. According to the Broadspectrum website, the company has the responsibility for providing social welfare services to Manus Island Detention Centre inmates.

Broadspectrum are therefore implicated in the operation of two Detention Centres where grave and sustained human rights abuses against vulnerable inmates have gone on under their watch. Indeed the establishment and operation of the Detention Centres themselves are significant abuses, which include physical and sexual abuse of inmates. Some of the allegations are severe enough to have progressed to formal allegations.

Now, the same Broadspectrum wants to hold contracts for the running of social housing in Christchurch. 2,500 houses are thought be for sale, despite Housing Minister, Amy Adams saying that they cannot be sold off further.

It is wholly inappropriate for a company linked to such grave abuses as those that are going on on Nauru and Manus Islands to be in any way involved in social housing. It is still more so that they seek to hold contracts for housing in a city which is recovering from significant trauma. Its whose most needy residents have enough socio-economic related stress in their lives, never mind whether or not their new housing provider can be trusted.

Broadspectrum also holds contracts with Auckland Transport, and further contracts with Transpower that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It subcontracts security work out to the Wilson Group, which in New Zealand includes First Security and Wilson Parking. Wilson Security, which is part of the Wilson Group are complicit in the abuses that have occurred at these two detention centres, by virtue of some of their staff knowing what was going on and failing to act to stop it.

Corporate dollars should not come ahead of human rights at any point in time. Broadspectrum made 45% of its total revenue in 2016 from Manus and Nauru Island Detention Centres, which totaled A.U.$1.646 billion. At the same time there were reports from the social welfare workers at both facilities that some of their clients were talking about suicide and included children.

Based on this would you trust Broadspectrum with social housing in New Zealand?

New Zealand housing crisis due to deliberate ignorance

We perceive ourselves as intelligent and in many respects we are, but there is a degree of ignorance and – perhaps – arrogance that goes with being a human being as well.

In some respects New Zealanders are quite aware of how lucky this country is to be free of major conflict, still have a relatively pristine environment and good performance in most social indicators. And yet, we are quite far behind – knowingly so in some respects – when it comes how we house ourselves, manage housing for the vulnerable, sick and disadvantaged and hindering our socio-economic performance as a result.

There is something about the housing crisis so fundamental that we cannot help notice, yet seem to be quite content in ignoring:

Anyone can buy a property in New Zealand. You do not have to be a permanent resident or citizen to do so, as is the case in many countries. 

In the United States a non American can buy property, but there are strings attached. These are normally involve houses being registered with a residents association or similar and ownership of a property registered such an organization is understood to be an acknowledgement that the owner is expected to comply with their rules.

In China one cannot own land, but rather gain rights to use that land. A person can purchase a house in a designated area after a year or more of studying or working in China.

In Israel the land owned by the Government, Jewish National Fund or the Israeli Land Authority can generally only be purchased by Israeli citizens or Jews. This comprises about 93% of all Israeli land. The 7% that is not owned by one of these bodies is privately owned and in great demand as there are few restrictions.

I have said before and will say again that New Zealand should require people to become permanent residents at least before they can purchase property in this country. In past articles I have shown how New Zealand can take steps to improve the housing crisis here and rather than write it all out again, here it is again.

New Zealand needs a revolution in land use planning

With all of the talk about housing going on, I find it somewhat surprising that no one has attempted to look at the idea of apartment living more closely. Given the lack of flat land in some urban areas and issues that go with reclaimed land, the current trend towards big single story houses and needless landscaping, and the development of infrastructure with more of this wastage in mind, strikes me as absurd.

I personally find the word revolution too emotionally and politically charged to use as a general rule. However there is coming a time in land use planning where it might be the most suitable way of describing the growing need to change how we approach land use planning.

The quarter acre dream is dead. If not it should be. The expansive suburbia ideals of the 1950’s and 1960’s need to be exited from planning. With our limited space, and geographical challenges such as the narrow isthmus in Auckland or the long corridor zones of Wellington, it is simply not realistic to continue to pursue. In its place we need to be prepared to go vertical with residential complexes, have communal vegetable patches in order to teach future generations about self sufficiency.

Planning law needs to become substantially more accommodating to apartment complexes. Too often politicians favour loosening up land zoning changes, such as changing industrial zoning to residential when it needs a substantial clean up first or zoning an area at high risk from flooding to something that permits intensive development. The current thinking  In doing so, the theorem around public transport will hopefully change so that cars have a less of a role in private transport. The idea that if you build where ever the roading network will simply follow suit and everyone can drive themselves, needs to go. Smart cities integrate with bus networks, and – where possible – railway networks.

Is the urban area a rough blob shape with a clearly defined centre? If so, a ring and radial network of roads and railways may work best. It looks like a bike wheel with the radial routes being the spokes, and the ring routes being the rim and so forth. In New Zealand the best example would have been pre-earthquake Christchurch. Globally Tokyo and Moscow provide good examples of such planning theory. This theory worked well prior to the earthquakes of 2010-11, where Christchurch’s bus network looked much like the model described. It might still work in the future if certainty about the reconstruction of the city centre can be obtained.

In the case of Auckland, urban sprawl and a growing motorway network with no real vision other than build more motorways is becoming an increasing problem. I was quite shocked in 1998 to see hectares of land disappearing under new commercial development displacing farms or fruit or vegetable growing businesses. The scale of the development, and the lack of regard that seemed to be given towards issues such as storm water run off, infrastructure and so forth.

I do not know how or when this revolution will start or what form it should take, but it plain to me that the status quo is not working.

Students vulnerable to housing crisis

Over the next few weeks tens of thousands of students will be going back to University, to Wananga’s, to Polytechnic’s to begin another year of study. They will be looking for flats, apartments, student halls and places where they can pay board to stay. Most will have no trouble finding a flat. But what about those who cannot compete, yet face a stark choice of either abandoning their study or studying at an entirely different institution?

Everyone has a right to housing under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and under the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

The theory is that the market is driven by demand, and the more that is paid, theoretically the higher the quality of the accommodation should be. The reality is somewhat different from the theory. The theory would be the case if were not for land lords – most of whom are quite fair and responsible people – asking for exorbitant rents whilst not necessarily using the money to maintain the property. The rents will be a challenge for many needing jobs to pay their way, or having to dig into hard earned financial reserves.

It should also be said that the market is not a silver bullet solution to everything, including and especially housing. We have seen in Auckland the damaging effects that a market gone mad is having on people and economic sectors – teachers cannot afford to work in Auckland because living costs are made too expensive by rent, causing principals in turn to worry about whether or not they will have enough qualified staff to deliver the curriculum.

Students are our future. Without trained teachers, doctors, police officers, and so forth the entire economy and way of life tips over. But if our students cannot afford inhabitable accommodation with electricity, running water and working sewerage, then it is difficult to expect them to continue studying, difficult for them to work to earn money to pay for study.

The Government should be concerned. It is election year, and National wishes to have a fourth term in office, yet it denies that the housing sector is in crisis. It denies that there is a teacher shortage in Auckland because of the crisis and it also insists that bringing a large number of migrants in to New Zealand, many of whom have poor English is a working solution. An effect of this influx is to add unnecessary demand to a limited housing stock.

An eight year old Government that has not made tangible improvements to the housing market now is not likely to do so in the foreseeable future. Housing will be an election issue in 2017.


How housing could make or break the 2017 election

Reading about the sale of housing to former high flyer, Mark Hotchin, I was drawn to wonder if there should be a limit on the number of properties a wealthy New Zealander can own. The flash in the pan only lasted a couple of seconds, but in doing so it raised a perhaps more important question about how much further the property market can continue to heat up before economic forces make it implode on itself without Government intervention.

This brings me nicely to an issue that I think will make or break the 2017 general election. New Zealanders are tired of being priced out of their own housing market. They are tired of going for broke just trying to pay rent and not being able to afford anything else, much less a decent quality of life.

It is going to be an election issue because housing rents are so high in Auckland that essential workers such as teachers are not able to live there without basically being broke. It is going to be an election issue because without those essential workers living there, the quality of the contribution those sectors make to New Zealand’s economy and overall well being is brought into question.

New Zealanders seem to like houses big and bigger, which anecdotal evidence from other countries suggests may now be becoming less fashionable as concerns about the environmental impact, affordability and lifestyle issues begin to take their toll. How far behind the curve New Zealand is when it comes to this is perhaps shown by the as yet considerable aversion to apartment living, which in parts of New Zealand such as Auckland may become simple necessity because of land constraints.

It is not that there are not alternatives to the trend for bigger houses. There are companies in New Zealand that design compact housing with minimal floor space. These properties might not suit a couple, and certainly not a young family, but individuals with a strong environmental conscience or simply no need for a larger property could be taken.

Finally state housing is exactly that. It is not private housing for sale. Contrary to what National, who are proposing the sale of hundreds of state houses, think, these properties should remain in New Zealand hands. It is Government built and owned housing that has one purpose and one purpose only – to house those who are unable to afford rental properties. The Government should award New Zealand companies the contracts for designing, building and – if the private sector really must be involved – maintaining them, because New Zealand companies are more likely to have have a social conscience about the people living in the properties.

How political parties acknowledge these issues is going to determine who wins the 2017 election in New Zealand.