Mayoral candidate Justin Lester answers Renters United’s questions

September 30, 2019 10:33 pm

Renters United asked every candidate for the mayoralty 14 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Justin Lester’s responses in full. Compare Justin with other candidates.

Housing quality:

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

We are currently halfway through our Housing Upgrade Programme, which will ensure all units are upgraded. I will ensure all Council units meet the Healthy Home legislative requirements and that tenants are in warm, safe, dry accommodation.

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

Over the last three years we worked with Philippa Howden-Chapman and the University of Otago (Wellington), Department of Public Health to create a Rental Warrant of Fitness system. This was a useful tool for renters about necessary housing standards and created much greater public awareness and scrutiny around housing standards. Importantly, this helped the new Government to implement the Healthy Homes Guarantee Act 2017, which I wholly support.

Security of tenure: 

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

A key tenet of WCC’s social housing is that our tenants have long-term security of tenure. Social housing is also based on need. If a tenant’s financial circumstances significantly improve, which means they no longer fall under our social housing policy, there is a 12-month period to allow tenants to find new accommodation. 

I grew up in social housing and directly understand how important security of tenure is for families and individuals in need. It provides stability and social cohesion.

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

Over the last three years we have implemented WCC’s apartment conversion scheme. This is the first step toward WCC supporting public housing for the public benefit. I will seek to grow the number of homes WCC manages in private rentals, including the option of stand-alone dwellings.

This will provide security of tenure for tenants and also cap any rental increases to inflation.

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.

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

I am committed to growing Council’s social and affordable housing as quickly as possible. We are building 750 social housing units under the Strategic Housing Investment Plan. We are also partnering with Housing New Zealand to deliver 300 new social and affordable homes at Arlington and have now have 5 buildings (up to 400 new rental homes) progressing in the inner-city building conversions.

I cannot commit to a certain number within a period of time because timing for construction is uncertain. Again, I will push to do as much as possible as quickly as possible.

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

My aim is for Council to contribute a minimum of 10% of the total of all new homes constructed each year and for those to be social and affordable homes. I also expect Housing New Zealand to contribute 10% of all new homes per annum. 20% of all dwellings need to be social and affordable in order for Wellington to remain and accessible, equitable and liveable city.

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

My focus will be:

  • Supporting more construction supply and more houses to be built across the housing spectrum.
  • Expanding the CBD building conversion scheme. and extending this to residential dwellings.
  • Partnering with Housing New Zealand, Iwi and Community Housing Providers to grow social, affordable and private housing stock.
  • Continue to streamline Council consenting processes, such as the new online portal created over the last three years, which provides consistency across Councils around New Zealand.
  • Continue to provide the $5000 rates rebate for first time home owners adding to construction supply through new builds or buying off the plans.

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? 

I will strongly advocate to Government to provide Income Related Rents subsidies for all Council housing tenants. It is inequitable that Council housing tenants do not qualify.

By growing our social and affordable housing and also capping rental increases to inflation, I will seek to ensure there is an increasing quantity of housing provided for public benefit, which will provide tenants with greater choice.

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 rental warrant of fitness. Would you support and fund Council proactively inspecting rental homes?

I support Council assessing all homes not complying with the Healthy Homes Guarantee requirements.

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

Councils are best placed to enforce standards in their local communities so I support Council enforcing the Healthy Homes standards.

You supported the introduction of targeted rates incentives for rental housing that met quality standards during the last local body elections. What other actions would you take to improve the quality of rental housing in Wellington?

I will continue to support and fund programmes with the Sustainability Trust and other partner organisations to increase the quality of rental homes such as the provision of insulation, heating and ventilation to ensure homes are warm, safe and dry.

Would you fund a dedicated tenants’ advocacy service?

Yes, provided it met grants funding criteria.

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

We can increase our participation in the housing market to ensure homes are provided for public benefit.

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

All of my ideas are shown in the answers above.

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