If Phil Twyford follows through on the sentiments expressed in his first major speech as Housing Minister then the housing sector may be facing an even bigger shake up than people realise

By David Hargreaves

What do we make of symbolic gestures?

Do we take them as just that - a symbol that doesn't have real meaning? Or do we accept that they represent a whole philosophical, ground moving, shift?

Let them have pets, says Phil Twyford the new Housing Minister. 

That's right, Twyford chose his first major speech as Housing Minister to announce that state house tenants will be allowed to keep pets.

"Given how important pets can be to people’s quality of life I favour a more accommodating approach that allows tenants to own pets – as long as they are properly looked after, not a nuisance or a danger to neighbours, and not damaging property," Twyford says.

Look, I've owned both cats and dogs. And I'll tell you what, you can definitely achieve one out of those three things cited there - you can 'properly look after them', as I did. However, I admit to failing in the other two things. The pets did damage the property and they were a nuisance to the neighbours. Oh, and Gareth Morgan will hate this; despite the presence of an industrial-sized bell around her neck that probably made her deaf, my Oriental shorthair pussycat Alfa was a diva at catching wax-eye birds. I suppose the birds qualified as neighbours, so she was definitely a nuisance to them.

On the face of it Twyford's announcement is really nothing. And to some extent it may well have been aimed at pleasing his socially-oriented audience.

But if you scratch a bit deeper what does it SAY on a very fundamental level about the attitude this Government is going to employ toward state housing?

Some years back a family member of mine owned a house that they rented out through an agent while they were overseas. Unbeknowns to them, the agent allowed the tenants to keep a dog. And yes, it damaged the property. And it cost money.

I've therefore got every sympathy with owners who do not want to rent out their properties to people who keep pets. Quite simply the chances are if as a private landlord you allow tenants to have pets it will cost you money.

But, and here's the interesting thing, the Government is now setting a standard. If you are a state tenant you can keep a pet. Okay, there's an incentive right there to rent a state house rather than a privately-owned one.

As a private property owner you might suddenly find that potential tenants are either demanding to keep pets - or they just will turn their noses up at your property.

So, our symbolic gesture starts to look a little more than symbolic. It starts to make certain presumptions about rights and setting minimum standards for rental properties - standards that private property owners might find quite costly to keep up with.

What signals?

The other thing is; what are you saying, what signals are you sending,  when you tell someone that they can have a pet? Aren't you kind of implying that they can and will be staying in that home for a long time to come, and you don't mind that? 

"Move in to a state house and get a dog, because you'll be here for years."

Isn't that completely the wrong signal?

It comes back I suppose to what you see as the role of the state housing. 

I certainly think it should be temporary. House those with immediate, urgent needs and then be working with them to find something more permanent and aspirational; either through perhaps a rent to buy scheme or simply by them moving on and either buying or renting elsewhere.

A backward-shift

Time will tell, but the sentiments expressed by Twyford in this first major speech, taken at face value, suggest a very backward-looking shift that risks being non-aspirational. It also could shake up the whole structure of the housing market.

If there's a lot more state housing made available over time, and this is allowed to develop into long-term accommodation, then there are potentially big ramifications for the private rental accommodation. 

Taxpayer subsidised rental accommodation can presumably always be cheaper than that which is provided by a housing investor. Over time New Zealanders just might have to rethink their traditional philosophy of buying a second house for a rental and some long-term capital appreciation. Ultimately if people can't make it pay to get a second property they won't. Certainly this could over time drive house prices down. That would be good for a while for the sake of debt-to-income ratios, but not longer term. Not in an aspirational sense.

I've rented accommodation a lot. And I've always resented the fact that in New Zealand there is definitely a view that you are a second class citizen if you rent. And don't even begin to try denying that, people, it's true. 

If we start to move to a situation where the state is the 'rental provider', dare I say that current stigma will simply worsen. You will either own a home or you will rent from the taxpayer. A home owner or a state tenant.

Stigma

All this might seem alarmist and almost a silly reaction to an announcement about pets. But it is the symbolism. It's the signal. 

The other thing though is that if the Labour-led Government does lead a major u-turn on state housing policy then there's every chance that the National Party will campaign hard next time to reverse the changes.

I would stress as stridently as possible that I think National made a dog's breakfast of state housing in its nine year run in Government. It ran down Housing NZ and the housing portfolio while entertaining half-baked plans about offloading responsibility for social housing to the private and charitable sectors. There was never a clear plan just a kind of half-cocked National Party 'capitalism good, private sector good' philosophy.

But two wrongs don't make a right. The fact that Twyford mentioned the 1930s, even in passing was not good. Symbolism again. 'Make New Zealand Great Again'? 

A modern approach

Surely there is room for a modern approach that treats state housing as a sensible, pragmatic, temporary option for those with a need and allows people to be ultimately inclined and empowered to find better housing options.

Twyford's first speech suggests this Government's approach to housing is going to be probably even more different than we thought. 

At some point, particularly on state housing, the country would be very much well served if the main political parties could get together and form a bipartisan approach. Again I suppose this goes into 'pigs might fly' territory.

My question though would be, how much will it cost the taxpayer to see the changes that National made over the past nine years to the management of state housing now reversed? And what about the cost if we go into full reverse mode again after the next election?

And who the hell's going to look after all the pets if an incoming National Government next time says you can't keep them in state housing anymore?

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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61 Comments

This coalition government with Jacinda at the helm will always lander to those that provide very little to the country.
The more that Twyford and Ardern says the worse things are looking.

Certainly aren’t saying a lot that oozes prosperity for the country.

Shane Jones says something and Jacinda doesn’t agree with it!!!

You would think they would agree on things before they blurt things out, wouldn’t you?

As I have said several times they are a one term at best government and are going to be very unpopular as they are totally out of their depth as they have very few life skills amongst them!

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Anger again. I thoughts rentals were bullet proof. Nothing can effect them not even our government. It pays to be diversified.

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Twyford is merely following the example set by large corporate rental apartment landlords in Nth America
who actively tout for tenants who have pets
Usually small to medium dogs are allowed on certain floors of apartment buildings as well as cats
The owners can be seen each day in the lobby before they go walk their doggy’s in the park
Pets do provide a definite emotional well being
I think there must be responsibilities to go along with this however and in my experience State Housing in NZ
has been pretty weak dealing with bad tenants
If you’re going to hand out carrots you must also carry a big stick
Up here you stuff up you immediately are removed from the building
The caring & sharing doesn’t work unless people know they’ll be out if they destroy property

I agree with you NorthernLights. I would like to see these new communities administered with a bit of tough love. Possibly having small one man community police stations like they have in Japan and 24 hour high tech video surveillance.

No! no! no!. If my taxes are providing people with a home and a benefit then I draw the line.
I'm not then going to pay for them to feed a dog! A dog eats as much as a child. Next they will expect the dog to be included in the benefit.
As it is, our low socioeconomic suburbs are over run with mangy mutts that bark all day.
I went to my local wilderness beach yesterday where there are no houses and Doterals trying to nest. A DOC sign clearly says no dogs. There were 4 dogs on the beach. The owners think its their right to exercise their dogs by chasing birds and trashing wilderness.
NZ does not need more ignorant dog owners. It is enough that we feed and house these people.

NorthernHippy & Zach
You know it’s an attitude to life that
people respect what they’re given & respect others
Sadly there are always people who bend the rules including the past 2 Prime Ministers
A high standard to live by should be set at the top

So who meets those standards? Certainly not Slippery Cinders or Crone Clark.

It's a bit early to say with Jacinda Ardern. Certainly she hasn't lied to the public to cover up an MP's crime, or double-dipped for taxpayer money, or used her power for personal business gain, or handed out taxpayer money to someone when apparently no crime had occurred...

Helen Clarke lied about a painting and probably about a motorcade. I'm trying to recall what else she got up to that compares?

No argument from me on that Northern Lights.
I totally agree that the standard of our recent leadership has been substandard if not plain corrupt!
I didn't vote for Jacinda but I do like her so far.
I'm not sure that she is going to improve things though. I think our country needs a businessman/economist to run it. None of our leaders seem to realize that a country is a business first. Even I could run a rock star economy if you let me borrow 30 billion dollars.

NorthernHippy
The current Whitehouse is full of “businessmen”
They’re just managed to get the GOP to vote a massive taxcut for the top 1% and cuts to healthcare for 13 million Americans plus beans for the middle class Trump family will save $1Billion on death duties alone
Corporations not only get tax cuts but keep all the tax loopholes too while schoolteachers will no longer be allowed to claim a tax deduction for school supplies
That’s businessmen & women like DeVos for you so dont put your faith in them either.
I won’t bother including the NZ experience Business people look for their opportunities and advantage not necessarily care less about the country

No, your taxes are paying for the National backbenchers snuffling at the trough, its my taxes paying for their housing and i'm okay with it. :)

Works really well in China Zach
There’s a CCP member hiding in every apartment building sending intelligence back to the Communist authorities

Agreed , and surprisingly dogs and pets seem to be more important than the renters.... this circus is getting better by the minute ...

A typically shallow observation.

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The article is absent any understanding of the situation.

NZ is short of accommodation (mainly Auckland) due to a high immigration rate & a near inelastic urban planning system, worldwide low interest rates with land prices bid through the roof, developer contributions increasing new house prices & a tax system that favors property investment - a perfect storm. We have people living in garages as a consequence.

Previous governments have failed to put in place good policy (sustainable immigration, effects based RMA rather than land zoning based, capital gains/land tax, targeted rates (vs developer contributions) & more capacity & completion in the building industry) & thus the market has failed to provide a house for everyone whether rented or owned which as a decent society must be one of our top social goals.

The government has no option but to step into the lower end of the market to provide housing as the private sector cant make a profit there currently due to all of the above points & may never do so. (We don't build new cars for the poorer in society, they purchase secondhand cars. Why would the market then provide new houses at the lower end of the market?).

Until we get to the point where there is a balance of available housing and population growth at a non bubble inflated land price, the argument about whether & how much social housing should be provided by the private sector is mute. Getting people out of garages and into decent accommodation is a far higher priority. Or would we rather NZ housing be that of a third world country?

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Exactly. Screw the speculative property market, which is grotesquely distorted and has catastrophically failed on fundamental purpose of producing dwelling places. Time for government to step in and deal with accommodation, if the market can't.

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Tenants have just been an inconvenient by-product of the property speculation ponzi, for many. Indeed, it is time, way past time, that houses returned to fulfilling their true purpose, providing HOMES for people.

I'd like to see a mechanism for the victimised non-participants in the speculative frenzy to be able to opt out of this madness, access motherflippin' homes, and leave the bullshit bubble flipper market to those who actually want to participate in it.

I'd rather just steer them to www.pokerstars.net

Communes?

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Nope, the fools and the greedies have turned the property market into a casino, and now it’s everyone’s risk. It’s a disgrace, but that’s where we are at.

To be fair it was the previous governments both National & Labour who failed to address NZs housing needs
with a strategy and policies.
They both were happy with the status quo as party members on all sides including The Greens were making money with investment properties
This capital gains tax free style distorted the market and the lack of even a basic land transfer tax contributed to the distortion.
Trying to unwind the misallocated money out of property now will be hard to do from a political standpoint as property forms so much of the wealth albeit ponzi wealth of the country

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Totally agree. And Totally disagree with the main sentiment in the article.
The market has failed and there is no option other than a big step up in government intervention.

Exactly!

Agreed. I always don't understand why nz put any effort in helping the top and/or bottom 10% at all? The wealthy do not need help as they can help themselves at all others' expense while the poorest of the poor (excluding ppl with birth defects) should work at least to lift themselves out of poverty. Poor people should not have kids or pets if they can not afford to even substain themselves. I truly await the day when nz have a party that looks after only middle New Zealanders while excluding both top and bottom ends of our society. Take the red pill people!!!

What about the working poor?

Dear Kiwi Oversessss
NZ has systemic problems in its ability to build anything
It starts with the availability of development land
Then there’s the lack of experienced tradespeople
The use of various foreign labour of varying standards
The duopoly building materials paradigm that continues to keep material costs abnormally high in cost
The lack of capital gains tax & properly assessed property taxation & land transfer taxation resulting in never enough funds for necessary infrastructure and skews investment towards speculation in housing not long term
rental accommodation..
The lack in NZ Of mechanization in the building industry whereby building is more akin to a cottage industry than mass production with economies of scale.
Apart from all that everything is just peachy

Reading through Northern Light's list, you can't tell me that NZ in the 1970s was worse than this?? Just finished reading former Ministry of Works head Bob Norman's book 'You Can't Win 'Em All'. I highly recommend it. He makes the argument that in the building industry, infrastructure building and transport generally, you need the big picture, or you end up with a mess of competing interests. Prophetic words. He backs it with solid evidence. Who remembers that 50 years ago there was more freight being shipped to the South Island via Bristol freighters out of Wellington airport than BEA from London to Europe? The rail head went up to the planes and the turnaround time was 13 minutes. Abolishing the MOW looks to have been a giant own-goal looking at the results.

Agree - It's all back to front with regards to social housing - the government should drop the rent subsidies and provide accommodation directly. Lots of it.

While the pets in rental houses theme is a lighthearted analogous approach to the issue, the article gets it right in discerning this as yet another signal from Twyford that the coalition intends to be heavy handedly interventionist in housing. Twyford thumps out a populist tune but diversified investors like me will run far from this increasingly risky investment sector that the coalition is gleefully intent on screwing over. Who will pay the piper then? Not the private sector. Perhaps that is his strategy - displace private landlords with taxpayer funded enterprises which control an increasing ppn of the country's rental stock. A central party committee of loyal comrades deciding the most deserving applicants from an exponentially expanding list of people with 'housing needs'.

So what's your solution? How will the market step up and deliver when the evidence of the last 10-20 years is that it can't?

You can buy houses in NZ for less than 100K. It's not the market that has failed to deliver, it's the people themselves.

You get a whole lot of house and land for under $100k in Gore.

https://www.trademe.co.nz/property/residential-property-for-sale/auction...

All of our problems are solved! All it takes is for the tens of thousands of homeless and priced-out families and workers to move en mass to Gore to buy and live in that one house. Who knew it would be so easy??

There's heaps of nice places in Gore. This one even has its own bar: Full section too and only 64K.

https://www.trademe.co.nz/property/residential-property-for-sale/auction...

Very nice

Easy peasy

While it seems funny I do think there is a group of troublesome poor people that do deserve to be transported to an isolated place where they can do all they wanted without causing the wider society problems. That is able bodied people with no intention to contribute to society while not having the means to substain themselves. While I don't hate all poor people that lot sure stirs great anger within me and others but we get shot down by PC elites when ever we speak out.

yeah - lets put them on an island and watch them play hunger games

or just carry on with hate and anger.

No shots here - you're doing a great job of hitting your own foot

That's what Tony Alexander would call a "do-er upper." Pity young Kiwis don't want to live in the middle of nowhere.

Fritz. You mean how the Auckland market hasn't. Elsewhere, notably in highly stressed Christchurch, it has done so very well. Auckland is a supply demand disconnect of excessive proportions that even the most efficient market couldn't accommodate. Government intervention is necessary but my point is that Twyford is not only intent on intervention, he seems hellbent on destroying the market fundamentals with his public excoriation of the evil landlord class.

I'm not sure what the evil landlord class expected. Did they think they could act the way they had been in perpetuity without eventually eliciting a strong reaction?

Somehow I don’t think state house tenants are the type to have a budgie or a rabbit for a pet. More likely a pitbull or two.

That's a pathetic stereotype.

Aside from many state house tenants being pensioners there is a lot of benefits for a pet and learning care for another life. So a dog is more likely an animal which encourages exercise and provides companionship. You see when I think of dogs they are companion animals, they offer security and they assist the disabled. Yes they require a lot of training but many pets do. If they wanted just the companionship but less maintenance than a caged animal (there is a lot of effort for a caged animal and lots of specialist products needed) or less training than a dog then I would recommend a cat but then we already have an archetype for the elderly with a cat. Normally they show signs they have been already isolated and the animal may be the only contact and connection they get for a day. Often the responsibility is a reason to keep going and helps with depression. But then surely we would rather have higher healthcare costs and service dependency in the elderly and disabled, and ban all pets.

Good old-fashioned Government housing long term for those in need may be a good idea for NZ & Auckland.
Despite the orthodoxy from the neoliberals, you can’t ‘cure’ poverty by forcing families into basic motel units short term, & remove all Govt housing etc, to try & force low income families into well- groomed middle class status.
Plus it will take some heat out of the housing prices & remove the power of the private landlord.

As National has made clear, you're going to spend either way. Better to invest than to throw the money away on emergency accommodation, surely.

It's a rental, not a home. You don't own it, but the government seems to be reinforcing the idea that rentals need not just be fit for purpose but a home for life to do with what you will. It shouldn't be in that business, the government and local councils need to provide some social housing but really the rest of the market should be ready and able to come to the party. And if you want pets, best to buy and then you can trash it however you like. Otherwise it should be a choice, depending on the characteristics of the property and tenant as to whether it is an option.

This is really reinventing the wheel, HNZ allows pets other than dogs, and you can apply for an exemption if you have a service dog and meet the criteria. They haven't looked at this, how well fenced are most HNZ properties? Would we be required to fund fencing? What if the dog isn't a pet but a guard dog?

As for National running down the stock, many state houses were left to run down not just over the last decade but the decades before that and because most were built before the building code was updated in 200 you can argue they were often not fit before that because you got bare floorboards, bare windows and a small open fireplace in one room to heat the place. They were always terrible, we grew up in one in the 70's in Wellington and your breath would puff out white when you woke up in the morning, it was as cold inside as outside. I can only imagine how much better off we would have been if the Labour government prior to that had started a refurbishment and replacement plan while running massive surpluses. Very little of that money was invested where it was needed.

The Government is not a business.
It is a democratic institution to maintain a fair balanced system for all its citizens.
It also provides free schooling, most healthcare, policing, etc, including some basic housing for those who cannot afford to buy a home or pay market rentals.

NZ's pitbull population set to explode...

Pitbulls are not the be all and end all evil. They are animals who when cared for and trained well they provide good companionship and security. You could ask why many tenants would not feel secure, but that is pretty obvious why a pensioner living on their own would not feel secure. Pitbulls are given bad press and they have been horribly abused in NZ. Yet it is a factor of society as a whole, owner occupiers, renters, and state tenants; all have the potential to abuse animals. You only have to see the horror of what owner occupiers do in many mass abuse cases with up to hundreds of animals, having to put down so many, to lose any notion that state tenants are the only ones capable. Handling tenancy management with pets is not impossible and there are many owners who would love and care for their pets to want to be able to stay in a home that accepts them so they take very good care (often far less risk of damage than children who can be quite destructive). If they follow the rules the pets stay...

I have reservations about most of the bull breeds, as they are very prone to muscular skeletal problems and the attendant pain, which can render dogs more likely to bite. The cost of keeping these animals in good health is eye watering, making them, in my view, unsuitable for people with limited budgets.
People with limited incomes are better to go to a shelter and find a small, wiry bitzer that is more likely not to suffer from congenital defects and will be eternally grateful for a home.

I agree with most of the commentary about this Govt. having to intervene to solve a problem, but since it was a problem that they and the previous Govts. created you have to question their long term strategy, and motivation.

A free market solution works the best, as other jurisdictions show, if of course we had had a truly free market, but we didn't.

Somebody needs to reset the system, and in the meantime a temporary fix needs to be found with a long term plan to restore a truly functioning free market, but I am not sure the Govt. see their intervention as temporary, or have any intention in restoring true housing affordability without having to resort to Govt. funded subsidization.

Our unrestrained population growth continues.
The taxpayer is expected to subsidize our immigrants with infrastructure and now 10,000 houses a year.
Labour expects to reign in immigration to about 40 to 50 thousand people annually.
The 10,000 houses the taxpayer builds should almost keep up with the population growth.
Can someone please remind me why we need these people? Oh that's right, we need them to build the houses and milk the cows because we have forgotten how to do it.
This country needs a dose of tough love. The benefits are obviously too high if working doesn't compete. We have more than enough homegrown labour to milk cows, plant trees and look after our old people. The pay check needs to be better than the dole and solo mumming has to stop being a profession.

It is a shame that the many reports and comments omit to mention. housing NZ are a minority player in the rental market. 85% of all rentals are owned and managed by the likes of me. My friends and I control what tenants can do. Bring in a property damaging pet and I will terminate your tenancy!

That can and hopefully, will, change

Not before 3 yrs is up!!!

The govt cannot finance all these homes with taxpayers money..impossible, they need the private sector landlords.

A biased opinion. Time may well prove you wrong as usual. Furthermore, I cannot see how over leveraged speculators can help.

Total value of real estate in NZ as at March 2016 was ~ $905 billion. Rentals = 36.8%, therefore value of rented accommodation could be ~ $330 billion. If the Government borrowed $73,000 for every person in NZ, then they could buy the lot. I'd put my money on PKchew being right.

I think both Pikachu and yourself are not taking into account the different types of renter - those that choose to rent, those that are forced to rent as speculators have forced prices up, and those who need to rent. Govt should provide for the latter, landlords can supply the former - the middle lot, where I'll wager most renters sit, don't "need" landlords, they've been shafted by successive govts, feeding a housing debt fueled Ponzi.