The thorny issue of how to deal with rental slums
Fixing substandard housing in Porirua, or any city, is a complex issue.
Local councils know where the problems lie, but it’s the Government that has the power and resources to fix it. That scenario frustrates city councillors.
Porirua’s local body representatives are at the coalface of our community – they know what’s happening in their neighbourhoods, what people are talking about, whether perceptions are close to reality. The councillors and mayor Nick Leggett know only too well what the state of housing is in Porirua.
About 58 per cent of the dwellings in the city are privately owned, 18 per cent are private rentals and 13 per cent are social housing.
With areas such as Whitby and Aotea adding to Porirua’s housing stock, the notion that Porirua is dominated by state houses is not correct.
However, the problem persists that many private rentals and the social housing in the eastern and western parts of Porirua are substandard.
The family of Solomon Esera - who spoke to us and to the city council recently – grew up with coughs and colds and general bad health. They believed that was the norm.
It shouldn’t be. There has been some success with Housing New Zealand, which tends to get hammered by the media, but private landlords often slip under the radar.
The perception that local councils should be battling those terrible landlords who allow tenants to live in unsafe buildings is incorrect. Councils can use the Health Act and issue notices against landlords, but, as was pointed out at Porirua City Council’s Te Komiti meeting last week, that bar has been set ridiculously low.
A building has to be virtually falling down to be deemed unsafe. The Health Act badly needs updating – sections relating to housing are more than 50 years old.
Porirua City Council does not have the resources to improve housing. Last week it declined Mana MPKris Faafoi’s request to draft a local bill on substandard housing that he could take to Parliament, and kicked a possible bylaw for touch. Faafoi will have to hope his private Member’s Bill is pulled from the hat to take the issue forward.
It looked as if the council had copped out. However, clearly councillors cared; they just had to accept the reality that their council did not have the funds to deal with the issue, even though it is critical to so many of its residents.
The most logical solution would be for local authorities to be empowered to tackle poor housing. Whether it’s tougher legislation or a better Health Act with heavy fines for recalcitrant landlords, something has to be done, and soon.