Candidate Sarah Free answers Renters United’s questions

October 1, 2019 12:07 am

Renters United asked every candidate in the Motukairangi/Eastern Ward 14 questions about the issues that most concern renters in Wellington. Here are Sarah Free responses in full. Compare Sarah with other candidates.

Housing quality:

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

We have already embarked on an ambitious programme to upgrade l our own social housing with efficient heating, curtains, ceiling insulation, double glazing where appropriate, and extractor fans, security stays on windows and outdoor areas to dry clothes to make sure indoor air stays dry. I’d like to see all Council housing meeting the healthy Housing standards by the of the next triennium (September 2022)

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

Working with the Otago School of Medicine, Council has promoted a voluntary Rental WOF. We also support a local organisation, Sustainability Trust, with grant funding to provide advice to owners and landlords on how to make their housing warm, dry and energy efficient, Council has also supported the Wellington Curtain Bank in the past and I’d like to make sure it continues to do so. The other big thing we can do is to continue to advocate to Central Government for better legislation to ensure more energy efficient and healthier rental housing.

Security of tenure: 

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

The existing situation is that Council tenants have security of tenure as long as they meet the criteria to be housed in Council housing. If they no longer meet the criteria because of a change in personal circumstances there is a transition period of a year before they must leave. Obviously there is a greater demand for Council housing than the units that are available and I will commit to regularly reviewing our policies and criteria to ensure they are fair and meet Council objectives.

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

Having been a renter myself, I know how unsettling it is to know that you could receive only six weeks notice if the landlord or family required the property themselves. I would advocate for the minimum notice period to be three months full stop. That would be a good start.

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.

Would you set a target for Council to double its housing portfolio by 2024 (from approximately 2,000 units to 4,000)?

I’d love to say yes, but in reality I think this is too ambitious, given the other challenges we face. However, I would like to see Council aim to increase its housing stock.

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

I would like to see at least 500 new units over a five year period, ie an average of at least 100 per year. Note that I think this is ambitious, but with dedicated work could be achievable.

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

In line with work already started at Council I will support:

  • Expanding the apartment conversion scheme.
  • Making consenting processes easier and cheaper.
  • Providing rates and levies incentives for those building affordable housing

I would also support:

  • making it easier for people to provide high quality flats and granny flats using existing housing stock
  • incentivising people to build smaller well designed houses ( say 100-140m2.), with universal design principles, and co-located with other similar units to enable efficient use of land.

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’m not sure about rent freezes, as I think they could have unintended consequences. But I would like Council to be able to partner more with Housing NZ for win-wins, for example better use of existing HNZ and other land (in Strathmore recently two old single storey housing units were replaced with 14 new, mostly two storey ones), partnering to finance new developments, manage properties and care for tenants. Another point is that Council has long advocated for Council tenants to be eligible for income related rents.

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?

Yes

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

Yes.

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?

Work with GWRC to better promote the Home Heating and Insulation Scheme, and to extend the range of initiatives it can be used for and the amount provided.

Would you fund a dedicated tenants’ advocacy service?

We already fund the Citizens Advice Bureau so I would like to see what more could be done in partnership with them and organisations such as Sustainability Trust.

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

Set up Council sponsored “rent to own schemes” so tenants can move to owning their own homes.

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

That’s it for now. But I’m always open to supporting other people’s good ideas.

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