The song ‘Gimme Shelter’ is considered by most critics today, along with the generation who grew up in the early 1970’s, to be one of the best rock tunes ever penned by any band.
A rather poignant and meaningful song from Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, the opening is so epic, so full of history, that it rocked the world then as it still manages to do so today. It’s just one of those timeless musical classics that ‘gets all over you’.
Many of the songs of the 70s had that ‘Apocalyptic’ theme, ones that were at the forefront of various movements of the time – the destruction of war, racism, poverty, class discrimination, homeless and homelessness, unbridled greed and conformity imposed by a minority ruling over the majority.
SOCIAL HOUSING SECTOR
Closer to home, the term ‘Gimme Shelter’ resonates on the issue of multitudes of people and families facing social- and health-related challenges today, part-icularly those who still live in overcrowded or inadequate housing conditions.
Listening to it reminds you that housing policy has largely ignored the social housing sector, which is underdeveloped compared to other countries in the OECD. New Zealand continues to have a low level of state and other social housing (6%) compared with those countries where it makes up to 40% of the total.
Forty years ago, or about the same time the song was first released, New Zealand was one of the best-housed nations in the world, with one dwelling housing every four persons. Today, while many low-income and even middle-income families might still desire to build or buy their own homes, rising house prices, high household debt and a prevalent inability to save for a deposit are closing the ownership door for them. It is a serious gap which continues to widen.
STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT
The problem is compounded more so by the fact that many of them pay a disproportionately large percentage of their income in rent. Even if they manage to avail of social security income or find some marginal employment to support themselves, they would still spend nearly 9 out of every 10 dollars of their meager income just to be able to meet rent. In the real sense of the word they are literally stretched to the limit.
In 2003, 58% of households on Housing New Zealand’s waiting list were in Auckland and the number of families in high or urgent need of a state house topped 4,000. Even then, as the Labour Party-led Government acted on plans to build, buy, or lease more than 3,300 state houses towards 2007, this level of supply barely matched population growth.
The situation for low-income families renting private houses today is unlikely to change from where it was then. At the rate of government spending on ad-ditional state housing, it will take up to 20 years to replace some 10,000 houses the previous Government earlier sold in less than seven. These are alarming numbers. The stress arising from this underinvestment in housing is being felt ever more so today.
EVIDENCE OF DISCRIMINATION
Although New Zealand signed the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights – which includes a right to adequate housing, it has not written this right into its laws. As a result, many believe that New Zealand’s Government is in breach of the Covenant’s clause banning discri-mination because of the concentration of housing deprivation among ethnic and financially-handi-capped family groups.
There is also consistent evidence of discrimination in private and state rental housing and there has been no recent policy initiatives to counter this. In turn, tenants who are financially strapped are reluctant to take action due to a shortage of dwellings, fear of eviction and lack of knowledge about how to complain. This impacts particularly on Maori; Pacific peoples; those with dis-abilities, mental health problems; and, other stigmatised populations.
Today’s National Party-led Government needs to manage this condition by ob-jectives. After launching initiatives yesterday to reform the country’s tax struc-ture after a long 25-year wait, its eyes should now focus on setting realistic targets to resolve this long-unresolved issue. It is a bold target to accomplish that will involve various specialised housing arrangements or options that com-bine support, physical quality, and suitable local environment.
In saying this Faith in Families, however, realises that underpinning the very core of this long-term objective is sustainability – if it is at all to become a meaningful programme. To achieve, in part, will require a regular annual stream of funding support coming from a variety of sources that not only includes government but foundations here and from abroad and proactive participation from private corporations, communities and individuals themselves who are most affected.