I agree with Hilary Clinton, it takes a village to raise a child.

We all have a role to play in reducing child poverty in New Zealand, but I don’t believe we will be able to make a difference until we first sort state housing.

State housing is an asset, but given the appalling condition of thousands of these government-owned houses, they have instead become a liability and an excuse the Government is now using as a reason to get rid of them – we’re hearing things like they are in the wrong places; we need more two, not three bedroom ones; they are surplus to requirements.

As these houses are sold off more people in need will miss out on the same opportunity John Key and his mum got.

Selling these houses from under our noses is evidence that we appear to have lost touch with the true purpose of social housing and, in abandoning it, we’ve instead created an unheralded level of disrespect, held by both the government and the public, towards its economic and social value.

Over years of successive governments, these assets have been poorly managed and neglected to the point where some are now in disrepair. But what’s worse, there are also now thousands of houses in sick condition, where people who have no other option are living – putting up with abysmal conditions because ‘you must not complain’. Instead, they are told, ‘you should be grateful for the government putting a roof over your head’.

In Hawke’s Bay I could give you several examples of houses where families are living for years with dampness, poor heating, rotting floorboards, leaking taps, mould and condensation dripping down the windows and walls, with no curtains or insulation. And yet, most of these houses have good bones and with some basic maintenance could quickly become respectable, healthy homes again.

The only time improvements appear to be made is when a family moves out. Then, as quick as a flash, the state spends a bit of money sprucing them up for potential sale.

Why they don’t do this while families are living in them beats me.

I encourage you to take a walk through a state housing street, knock on a few doors and talk to those who live in them; most are very friendly and happy to chat. You will see the blindingly obvious – how a little help could go a long way to improving the state housing standard of living.

Yes, it works both ways. You need to respect the house you are renting, but if the landlord doesn’t care about it, what example does that set? Even if you have excellent housekeeping standards, if the wallpaper’s falling down, if the carpet is threadbare, if the Government doesn’t care, what are you expected to do?

Selling off these houses is a cop out. When you don’t want to deal with something the easiest thing to do is make it someone else’s problem, wash your hands and walk away. And don’t worry about picking up the pieces.

Week on week, more state houses are being sold, even with families still in them and sadly most are quickly snapped up by rental property investors who are cash buyers. Bought at bargain prices, and then often with little improvement they are then re-rented out at ‘market’ rates. There is no requirement on private owners to bring these houses up to standard, again because the Government has led by example.

The sale of state houses is another opportunity to make money from the poor. Yes, I will say it, property investors can use their tenants to get more off the welfare system. How? If the new landlord increases the rent, and the tenant can’t afford it, they can ask for an increase in accommodation allowance. And if the tenant can’t get it, they will be forced to move out and more families become homeless, or live in garages, or with another family in overcrowded rooms, which leads to greater poverty and sickness.

So while we allow the sale of state houses to carry on, the Government feeds more poverty.

Eventually hard-working New Zealanders will pay through their taxes for the Government’s damage, because as more families live in poverty, it will cost and put more pressure on state welfare, education and health. We will all suffer the consequences of this short sightedness.

I just don’t get why on earth it’s being allowed to happen, it makes me want to shake a few heads together and say just open your eyes – wake up to reality.

We are an innovative country of thinkers and doers and we all want our children to have opportunities in a future where they know, no matter where you come from, there is always something better out there, if you are prepared to work for it. We should and can develop a progressive model of social housing that meets today’s challenges head on. We should not be afraid to do so, even it means making changes in welfare reform.

Today, it has to be far more than putting a roof over a head, it needs to be about creating a settled and secure environment to raise our children and for parents to parent, and in doing so supporting families out of poverty and dealing with today’s social challenges.

To work, this model requires a partnership of ownership and responsibility between everyone involved. But it must be led by a government prepared to get involved. And investment will be needed to support those whose job it becomes to deliver the resources and tools for those most in need, so they can progress in life.

As I see it, the model must provide a mixture of options, short-term, long-term rentals and, yes, even ownership. It must include far easier and greater accessibility of facilities and resources wrapped around these housing areas – primary health care, early childhood, primary, secondary, and even tertiary and home-based education. There needs to the opportunity to work (voluntary or paid) so everyone is contributing. And there must be an end result, so these families can see a better life for themselves and their children – a way out.

Yes, it starts with parents, our children are our responsibility and we must do our very best. But as each and every parent knows, regardless of your personal and financial circumstances, we all need some help and support along the way.

Helping children out of poverty starts at home. We have the answer on our doorstep; all the Government has to do is open the door – instead of closing it. Then, success will require central and local government, state and community agencies, volunteers, iwi and business leaders and the people who live in the houses and their neighbours to work together. It will take a village.

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