Renters United asked every candidate for Mayor 11 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Nicola Young’s responses in full. Compare Nicola 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?
I have signed the Victoria University Students’ Association pledge to do all possible to institute a compulsory WoF, but I am conscious of unforeseen consequences: it may lead to fewer properties being available for rental, which would push up all rents. I think an opt-in scheme would be the best (and have the least effect on reducing rental housing supply) with, for example, an ‘WOF approved’ sticker on the rental details so prospective tenants know what they are getting (or not).
2: Are there any other steps you would you do to improve the health, quality and safety of rental homes in Wellington?
Council needs to work with Wellington’s various tertiary institutions and commercial investors, to encourage them to build a range of student accommodation (not just halls of residence). The proposed Urban Development Agency (UDA) could facilitate this, by cutting red tape (resource consents etc) and using land in the Adelaide Road and Kent Terrace areas – handy to the city and tertiary institutions. The UDA could be mandated to ensure a supply of affordable housing too.
Five years ago, I had a scholarship to study in Dresden and was housed in a studio flat in a purpose-built block of student flats – simple accommodation, with triple glazing (cold winters!), and shared laundry facilities in the basement; this would be an interesting model to explore.
3: How would you address homelessness in Wellington?
There’s nothing compassionate about having people begging in our streets, or sleeping rough. Wellington’s Te Mahana strategy has made a good start, and our city’s social services – Council and charities – do great work, but we need more Government support to provide wrap-around services including intensive case management.
Council cannot provide the solution to every social problem. Wellington is already New Zealand’s third largest provider of social housing, and we need to continue our focus on low-income earners: for example, those living on benefits, low wages or low fixed incomes, particularly when children or people with additional health needs are involved.
We have some ‘band-aid’ solutions: the Night Shelter and the Women’s Homeless Trust for example, but we need more long-term solutions like the Te Aro Pa papakainga housing (Evans Bay).
We should investigate responses in other places. Albuquerque, in New Mexico, runs a ‘There’s a Better Way’ programme which employs beggars to help beautify the city, and connects them with social services. A van collects any beggar or homeless person who is interested in working; they’re paid above the minimum wage, given lunch and overnight shelter. The programme, run jointly by the Albuquerque council and local charities, has been running for one year, and is considered successful. Other US cities are now copying the programme.
4: Do you support the building of additional council housing and if so how much housing should be built in the next council term?
Social housing is enormously expensive, and a scarce resource that must be reserved for those on the lowest incomes. I am aware of a looming ‘black hole’ in our social housing budget.
I don’t believe Council (ie Wellington ratepayers) can afford to build more social housing on its own, so a joint venture with the private sector could be a solution. One suggestion has been that Council places some of its social housing into a special unit, along with the Government, with capital provided by a private partner. As the housing would not be owned by Council, tenants would receive Government rental supplements. The joint venture would have to provide a minimum level of social housing and affordable housing, but would also have to generate a return on the capital investment. There would need to be an option for the Council/Government to resume ownership if they wished.
We could also look at share equity and other home ownership schemes, or alternative housing models for people on slightly higher incomes in their retirement years, including the retirement village association for people over the age of 65.
5: Are there other measures you would take to increase the supply of quality rental housing in Wellington?
We need to continue working with Government, and iwi. And keeping rates low will help grow business confidence – this is important because we need people to invest in Wellington.
6: What do you think are the main reasons rents in Wellington are increasing? How would you ensure rents in Wellington are affordable?
Supply and demand issues, plus the increased costs of building and land. The recent 5.5% average residential rates increase will lead to further increases – landlords will pass on the increase pretty quickly. The Labour Party’s latest research says rents increased by 5.5% last year – rates are one of the drivers for this; rents will continue to rise if Council keeps increasing its rates. I am campaigning to freeze rates at inflation, by cutting waste – and that will help reduce rent increases.
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?
Discrimination is illegal, under the Residential Tenancies Act when it is in contravention of the Human Rights Act. It’s already unlawful to discriminate on the basis of gender, marital status, religious or ethical belief, race or colour, ethnic or national origin, disability, age, political opinion, employment status, family status and sexual orientation. Complaints can be made to the Human Rights Commission, or the Tenancy Tribunal (not both).
8: Do you support dedicated tenant advocacy services to balance the influence of landlords and rental agents? If so, how should these be funded?
We already have a Tenancy Tribunal, the Citizens Advice Bureau does great work, and I look forward to Renters United!’s contribution to this important debate in the years ahead.
9: Would you take steps to tackle persistent bad landlords who do not meet their obligations to renters?
The market generally sorts out bad landlords. Recently, for example, Trade Me advertised an earthquake-prone loft in Central Wellington, with makeshift wooden cubicles as bedrooms, for $600 a week. There was an outcry about the accommodation – but it remained unlet four months. This shows that students had better options.
10: How would you ensure renting is more stable/secure?
I don’t think local authorities have a mandate in this area. Housing is obviously a growing issue, and we should encourage the Government to look at solutions in other countries. Germany has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the Western world, plus a good supply of rental housing, and its property prices have risen very slowly; this is due to historic reasons (the aftermath of WWII) but its housing policy works – with very stable and secure rentals. Interestingly, however, Britain (which had a similar problem after WWII) imposed stringent rental and construction controls, which led to poor quality rental housing.
11: Do you have any other policies that you believe will have a particular impact on improving renting for renters in Wellington?
Renters pay rates indirectly, so my plan to freeze the rates at inflation and protecting core services (by cutting waste) will help give Wellingtonians more financial security.
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