Mayoral candidate Andy Foster answers Renters United’s questions

September 13, 2016 8:54 am

Renters United asked every candidate for Mayor 11 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Andy Foster’s responses in full. Compare Andy with other candidates. Read responses from other candidates.

1: Wellington City Council has declared its intention to introduce a rental WOF. Do you support the introduction of a rental WOF? If so, how will you go about its introduction?

Yes absolutely. We should not be allowing housing that effectively makes people sick. Everyone should be able to live in a warm, dry, well insulated and well ventilated house. To achieve this clearly we need Central Government legislation. Recent Government legislation requiring smoke alarms and ceiling and underfloor insulation is a start. Andrew Little’s Bill takes this a welcome step further. There is also a good check list developed https://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/Draft_housing_Warrant_of_Fitness_checklist.pdf which could form the basis for a ‘star rating system’ I would support legislation to require houses to be well insulated, ventilated, heated, draft stopped, and drained as set out in Andrew Little’s Bill, and work with Local Government New Zealand to show Parliament that healthy homes legislation is supported by communities right across the country.

2: Are there any other steps you would you do to improve the health, quality and safety of rental homes in Wellington?

Council is a direct investor in social housing with almost 2500 housing units. We are progressively modernising and seismically upgrading them. This includes making them warm, dry and well insulated and ventilated. I will continue that programme, and seek over time to add to the housing stock. I will also continue our support for the wonderful Sustainability Trust which provides home insulation and curtains among other valuable services. Finally I will also continue to support the Regional Council’s Voluntary Targeted Rates scheme which allows the cost of insulation to be paid off over time through regional rates. While you might think that this is really about homeowner owned homes it could also be valuable for rental properties as landlords are required to insulate properties now, and undoubtedly standards will only increase.

3: How would you address homelessness in Wellington?

Homelessness comes in many forms. People living on the streets, and in suboptimal conditions – overcrowded, in cars, ‘couch surfing’. Many of those on the streets have complex needs – they may be drug or alcohol dependent, have mental illnesses, been through traumatic personal and family circumstances. They will often need person by person compassionate attention, working through those issues and helping them to escape those challenges. That is being done by many wonderful community organisations like Downtown Community Ministries to name just one. Emergency support is also essential through the Night Shelter, Soup Kitchen and places to go like the Hope Centre. As Mayor I would continue to work with and support these fantastic agencies. Ultimately homelessness cannot be addressed without homes, and we need more of them. That means building more which I will cover in the next question.

4: Do you support the building of additional council housing and if so how much housing should be built in the next council term?

Yes. From the information I have I believe that we need something of the order of 100-200 more social houses over a period of time. Those could be provided by Council, Housing NZ or by Community Housing Providers. Hard to put a number on the upcoming term because Council is so focused on the Housing Upgrade Programme – a $400 million programme over some 20 years to provide modern, clean, dry, seismically resilient social housing which is really good to live in. What has been done to date is a source of great satisfaction and pride to the whole Council and should also be to the City. I will also seek to persuade Government to end the discrimination which means Council housing tenants are not eligible for income related rents (IRR) but tenants of Housing NZ and Community Housing Providers are eligible. This hurts tenants and also hurts Council’s ability to do the upgrade work and to expand our housing stock.

5: Are there other measures you would take to increase the supply of quality rental housing in Wellington?

I have championed the establishment of an Urban Development Agency and in June Council agreed to establish a UDA. Officials are now working through the establishment details. It will be operative mid next year. The UDA will be focused on working with the private sector to deliver urban regeneration projects. This means more homes. I specifically want to target first home buyers and our ageing population. While most of these homes will probably be targeted at owner occupiers it is entirely possible for tenanted/social housing to be included. A key consideration here is that allowing people to buy homes also means they will free up rental space. Ultimately I want to see more people owning their own homes. That will become more and more important as our population ages. We all know superannuation will be under pressure and having large numbers of older people still paying rent will not be help in allowing a good quality standard of living. Final point to make is that new homes these days are often very much larger than they used to be – which makes them less affordable, especially for those just starting out on the property ladder.

6: What do you think are the main reasons rents in Wellington are increasing? How would you ensure rents in Wellington are affordable?

I suspect it is largely down to supply. Our population is increasing – a very rapid 2% last year, and this inevitably puts pressure on housing supply – owned and rental – so as I have already discussed, we need more homes. There is no quick, magic silver bullet here. We have zoned space for development. The UDA will help encourage delivery as will investment in urban improvements in key areas such as along city boulevards like Kent and Cambridge Terraces and Adelaide Road.

7: Many renters face discrimination on the basis of their gender, family status, age and ethnicity and when trying to find a home in Wellington. What steps would you take to address this?

As a landlord we will not discriminate. New Zealand has strong laws against discrimination and agencies (Human Rights Commission) tasked with eliminating discrimination.

8: Do you support dedicated tenant advocacy services to balance the influence of landlords and rental agents? If so, how should these be funded?

Again I think this is the responsibility of Central Government, notably through the Tenancy Tribunal and Residential Tenancies Act.

9: Would you take steps to tackle persistent bad landlords who do not meet their obligations to renters?

Again I think this is the responsibility of Central Government, notably through the Tenancy Tribunal and Residential Tenancies Act. We could consider assisting with the development of a star rating system, but need to be careful we are not duplicating the Government’s responsibilities. We could particularly work with tertiary education agencies and students associations to develop a Welcome to Wellington pack including a guide to rights as a tenant and star ratings as implemented.

10: How would you ensure renting is more stable/secure?

Again I think this really sits with Government through the Tenancy Tribunal and Residential Tenancies Act. As a Council we can be an advocate
When required.

11: Do you have any other policies that you believe will have a particular impact on improving renting for renters in Wellington?

In addition to all of the above, work with the Otago University study on warm, dry homes to promote its outcomes.

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