Candidate Iona Pannett answers Renters United’s questions

October 1, 2019 10:18 pm

Renters United asked every candidate in the Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward 14 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Iona Pannett responses in full. Compare Iona with other candidates.

Housing quality:

How will you ensure all council owned and/or managed housing is safe, warm and dry? 

By continuing to support the Council’s upgrade programme and looking at ways to fund future social and affordable housing. At the moment, there is a funding shortfall over the long term.

As you will know, local government must meet the requirements of the Healthy Homes Standards by 2024. I will advocate for those standards to be met sooner if possible. Where possible we should exceed standards set out in the Building Act and Code which are set quite low.

What actions would you take to improve the quality of private rental housing in Wellington?

Using the upcoming review of our District Plan will enable us to put some policy in place to increase the quality of rental housing. I acknowledge however we have no legal mechanisms to require people to go beyond the Building Code.

We do have some limited financial mechanisms that could be used to improve quality like rates relief and rates rebates. Providing more grant funding is also another mechanism that we have. Continuing to support of the Sustainability Trust’s programme to improve housing quality is something I’m also committed to.

Renters should be able to have pets in their houses where appropriate. This is quite a complex area but there are many benefits to owning a pet and they should be encouraged in rental housing. We can advocate to government on this point.

Security of tenure: 

How will you ensure all council tenants have security of tenure?

By introducing a presumption at a policy level that tenants have the right to a home for life unless they find somewhere else to live or there is a non-payment of rent or anti-social behaviour.

We also need to recognise that council housing is a home necessary for the wellbeing of every tenant and that there shouldn’t be disruptions unless absolutely necessary.

Ensure that natural justice applies if there are any disputes with our tenants and do everything we can to keep tenants in a house.

‘No cause’ evictions should not be supported to embed the idea that tenancies are indefinite at a council housing level. Non-payment of rent, damage to property and anti-social behaviour are not acceptable but as above we should be doing everything we can to keep people in housing. Fixed term tenancies should not be allowed unless we are upgrading properties.

What actions would you take to improve stability and security for private renters?

I think WCC needs to advocate to government around the requirement to give tenants 90 days’ notice without just cause. Renters need more time to find accommodation and need just cause to move out.

We also need to change our renting culture so that there is an expectation that renting can be done for a long time i.e. 5 years plus if the tenant so wants. This would enable the tenant to put down strong roots in their community. Changing the Residential Tenancies Act to this effect would help as would allowing for automatic rights of renewal.

Retaliatory notices – we need to talk to central government about the need to protect tenants from notice if they complain about their landlord.

Housing supply and affordability:

WCC estimates Wellington has a shortfall of 4,000 houses. Rents have increased in the city by 10% per annum for the last three years.

You supported the building of additional council housing in the last local body elections. Would you set a target for Council to double its housing portfolio by 2024 (from approximately 2,000 units to 4,000)?

I would like to see more council housing built but we have learned how expensive that would be over the last three years, especially with a hot construction market. I understand the cost would be getting to $1b to reach this goal. The Council does not have this kind of money but I do believe that we should lift our borrowing limits and borrow for a starting point $200m to start building more housing. More money will be needed from central government to build more as well as some investment from the social sector. But the goal is sound and we need to keep working towards it.

How many new houses do you think the City Council should be building annually (above and beyond the private sector)?

As many as is possible. This will depend on a number of factors to be taken into consideration but I would start with 500 a year.

What are your other ideas for addressing the housing shortage and how would you make those a Council priority?

At the beginning of the triennium, the Council develops a plan for the triennium, housing was one of the top priorities for the last triennium and some wins were achieved. It is time again to make this a priority and necessary to hold council staff accountable for delivering on the vision of more quality and affordable housing now. Using our Quarterly report to measure progress is one way of ensuring housing is a priority. Vigorous political leadership will also be needed on this issue. More specifically:

  1. Working in partnership with central government, CHPs, the universities and private developers as we have done over the last three years would help to get more building done.
  2. Offering rates relief may be an effective way to incentivize more development.
  3. The upcoming review of our District Plan must have significant provisions around the need for sustainable and affordable housing.
  4. Building consent processes need to be made more user friendly whilst ensuring that good quality housing is built.
  5. Housing choice is also important for different kinds of families and they must be appropriate for women, people with disabilities and culturally appropriate, encouraging papakāinga for example is one way of supporting culturally appropriate housing. Different kinds of ownership also need to be implemented including rent to buy, sweat equity and so on.

Would you advocate for additional powers or resources from Central Government to address the housing crisis (such as the ability to freeze rents), if so what and how? 

Yes. We need to build more houses to get rents down. The government has the ability to build and to borrow, working in partnership with government as we are doing on the Arlington site is one way of doing this (without selling land of course).

In spite of consistent lobbying from the local government sector, the government has refused to apply the income related rent subsidy to council housing. This is important and needs to be changed.

Fixing rental levels is an issue that needs further exploration but I would be supportive in principle. We need to advocate for one rent increase per year as the maximum; rents should be in line with other properties in the area and should be in line with CPI unless there are significant improvements to a property.

Advocate for a national housing strategy to do the following things:

  1. end property speculation
  2. allow for significant investment into new houses
  3. Support the growth of more Community Housing Providers
  4. Encourage more partnerships with local and central government to build more houses
  5. Look at regulating providers like Airbnb which can inadvertently undermine the rental market
  6. Research and fund other models of housing including coop housing, sweat equity and so on.
  7. Allow for higher standards for rental properties over time

Security of tenure is a big one to allow people to put down roots in a community. The law should change to include a presumption that renters can rent for some time.

Meaningful enforcement of laws:

Renters United believes the council should be more proactive in supporting renters to enforce both the existing and new housing quality laws (i.e. the Healthy Homes Standards). This could include funding and undertaking inspections of private rental houses against the standards and/or funding advocacy services to support renters in enforcing their rights.

During the last local body elections, you supported the introduction of a compulsory rental warrant of fitness. Would you support and fund Council proactively inspecting rental homes?

As you will know the 2017 Act does allow for the CEO of MBIE to prepare a programme of inspection. This should be supported. We would need to take into account the views of tenants who might find such a regime intrusive. However, there is some merit in the idea of a partnership between central and local government.

Do you think that Council should play a greater role in enforcing the standards?

As above. It is important that standards are nationally consistent. Councils should be proactive about reporting bad landlords to MBIE. Council also needs to lead by example by being a model landlord.

What other actions would you take to improve the quality of rental housing in Wellington?

  1. Housing planning shouldn’t take place in a vacuum. Rental housing needs to be located to good public transport to reduce costs for renters and other critical services. Everyone needs access to green spaces as well so I’m committed to building more green spaces and think planning rules should allow for green spaces around housing.
  2. Developing housing needs to be in the context of climate change. Stationary energy use is a major issue in cities in terms of our emissions. Housing must be near public transport and as close to the CBD as possible and be energy efficient which helps to improve the quality of a property and to keep bills down.
  3. Advocate to government to make changes to the RTA to ensure that renters can make their home a home like putting in a garden, painting and fixing furniture to walls and so on.
  4. Advocate for rental property standards to be reviewed regularly, irrespective of who is in government

Would you fund a dedicated tenants’ advocacy service?

Yes, happy to consider this alongside our other priorities. Council’s main job is to fund infrastructure and we have big bills coming up to make sure that Wellington is safe for everyone. This really is a central government function though to ensure that renters get the same rights everywhere in the country. Working with groups such as yourself, Community Law and Citizens Advice Bureau would also be a good idea. There is no need to duplicate services. Any such service would need to be independent from council as regulator to give confidence to renters and the public that it would give robust and credible advice.

What else do you think Council should do to address power imbalance between landlords and tenants?

Providing information at a council level would help about what your rights are as a renter. Council also has the power to advocate to government for legislative change and the ability to talk about renting issues to stakeholders throughout the country.

As a landlord, WCC also needs to be cognizant of the fact that it has power over tenants and needs to continue to work hard to develop a partnership model to empower tenants and ensure their rights are respected.

Do you have any other ideas or plans relevant to renters that you would like to share?

  1. We need to continue to work to work to ensure that those who are experiencing homelessness get housed under our Housing First Policy. There is provision for some supported living in Rolleston Street and in the new Arlington development. We will need to see how this goes, learn from it and commit to more in partnership with central government.
  2. I remain committed to building a communal facility for people dealing with alcohol issues.
  3. I understand that some groups experience discrimination on the basis of marital status, gender, ethnicity and so on. Wellington needs to say no to this kind of discrimination at a cultural level and councils need to support Government to ensure that provisions under the Bill of Rights Act is upheld.
  4. Rents should be fair and not as a result of changes in demand and supply. This can be mandated through changes to the RTA.
  5. Advocate for a change to investment patterns around housing to encourage larger cooperatives to invest in affordable housing rather than just mums and dads who tend to have limited resources.
  6. Reduce number of inspections every year in our own housing and advocate at a national level for a change to the law.
  7. Advocate for law changes so there can be no bidding for rental properties; it should be set when the landlord advertises.
  8. Advocate for a grading system for rental properties (although this would mean some renters would have to pay more)
  9. Advocate for changes to the Tenancy Tribunal to balance out the inherent imbalances in power that exist between renters and landlords. It should be funded well and adopt a model of investigating claims rather than leaving it up to the tenant to do most of the work.
  10. Look at developing alternative ways to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. A tribunal can be a difficult process for some. Mediation services should be culturally appropriate and acknowledge differences in tenants and their circumstances.
  11. Advocate for investigatory work to be put into registering landlords and property manager. There should be support for property managers to be qualified and regulated.
  12. Interest from bonds should benefit tenants, not the government.

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