Mayoral candidate Nick Leggett answers Renters United’s questions

August 28, 2016 10:51 am

Renters United asked every candidate for Mayor 11 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Nick Leggett’s responses in full. Compare Nick 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 I do in principle. WOF related standards should at first be applicable to council-owned housing to ensure it is up to standard.

As you’re probably aware, the Council rents out around 2,300 units under its social housing service, housing between 3,500-4,000 residents at any time. This makes the Council Wellington’s largest provider of affordable rental housing for low-income households, and to those who face barriers to other types of housing.The Council is well underway on a joint 20-year project with the Crown to upgrade its social housing – including installing insulation and double glazing, and improving ventilation and heating to allow tenants to enjoy, safer, warmer, drier homes. My intention would be to ensure a detailed briefing of this work including how the programme compares with WOF proposals – and look for opportunities to promote the value of such healthy housing improvements to rental landlords.

Under current legislation the Council has no powers to impose a mandatory WOF on landlords. There would be significant resource implications and risks of legal challenge if the Council attempted to introduce a housing WOF requirement locally. I believe empowering legislation is required by Central Government to facilitate a wider WOF for all rental properties. Whether this is monitored and enforced by Central or Local Government I’m undecided. I would not expect a council to accept this mandate without funding that followed the service. Ratepayers cannot be expected to fund such a service from the current rating system.

I do not believe that the Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill or amendment of the Residential Tenancies Act to make ceiling and underfloor insulation and smoke alarms mandatory in rental properties go far enough. They’re a step in the right direction, but need to provide more comprehensive standards and clearer enforcement responsibilities.

So I think the focus should be advocating to central government for change whilst working with other organisations locally to raise awareness of the services and supports currently available.

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

Firstly I’d like to see a strong connection and monitoring of properties and tenants to understand the reality of their living situations. This will allow political advocacy and leadership to represent their issues to Central Government.

I’m also delighted to point out that Local Government NZ is now tasked with engaging with the Government on ways to strengthen minimum standards for rental housing to ensure that all rental homes are warm, dry and healthy to live in. Please see the associated remit that was submitted by Porirua City Council and voted in by 93% of councils at the AGM of LGNZ on 24 July 2016.

There is also important work to be done with Greater Wellington, neighbouring councils and agencies to look at improvements to the healthy housing services available in the region. I’d like to see far better engagement with landlords, owner-occupiers and tenants to make sure they’re aware of the various insulation, heating and related sustainability programmes on offer and where they can go to get advice on how to keep their properties dry, warm and pollution-free.

3: How would you address homelessness in Wellington?

I’m concerned to hear reports of the number of homeless rising and I want to be certain that the nature and extent of people living without shelter in Wellington is known so that we can coordinate and identify what can be done.

We need to make sure that all those agencies that are funded to work with homeless persons understand the need on the street and are co-ordinated in service delivery and support. My view is that we know the names of most of those who are homeless in Wellington. This means that there is no excuse for them to be excluded from the services and resources they are entitled to.

The Council also provides a Mayoral Relief Fund of $20,000 per year for residents who are in need of help in the form of food, shelter and clothing. I would definitely plan to review the effectiveness and targeting of the programme to ensure that the most vulnerable are receiving the support needed and that positive outcomes are maximised.

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

I support the construction of public and private housing to meet the need for affordable accommodation for Wellingtonians. Whether new public housing is state or council owned – I don’t have a developed view at this stage. What’s important is that those people who need affordable accommodation have access to it. We need to understand the demand and anticipate future demand in this area.

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

I would certainly expect urgent advice about housing issues in Wellington, including the number of social houses and rental stock. The work about to get underway with LGNZ will be critical in terms of addressing quality rental housing.

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

The provision of quality, subsidised public housing can help set a benchmark for private landlords.

Changes in government policy that influence housing affordability will be important drivers in the rental market, such as the number of state houses, level of accommodation supplements, income-related rent subsidies for low-income families (including income assistance in the private rental sector to low-income wage earners) and interventions to reduce household crowding.

Also demographic changes will be important to understand, such as population changes, patterns of household formation, types of housing tenure, migration, economic and wage growth, distribution of employment and levels of income inequality. Equally things like interest rates and property prices will impact on decisions to rent or buy.

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?

Connection to those people who are facing these issues and once again, advocacy for them in appropriate environments.

The Council will be able to provide useful briefing information around the nature and extent of discrimination in the rental market based on their priority groupings for social housing for those on low incomes, which include the fit elderly, refugees and migrants, low-level psychiatric, households with a number of problems that make them vulnerable in the housing market and people with physical disabilities.

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

Yes, but not by Local Government.

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

The council isn’t mandated to do this. Once again, over-arching new legislation that sets quality standards and ensures that councils are funded and mandated to police standards is required. The current legislative tools available to Local Authorities are toothless in this area.

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

This is another area that I view is a Central Government responsibility, but that Council could advocate on.

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

Not at this time.

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