Armstrong: Government struggles over State Housing message

Seems that John reads Whaleoil and concurs with me that the whole Housing New Zealand housing stock upgrade has been poorly handled in terms of what the public get to know and understand about it.

Pick your way through the latest batch of just-released Cabinet papers dealing with the future of state housing and you will find the reason why the National minority Government is struggling to sell the virtues or otherwise of its radical reform of the bottom end of the housing market.

It comes down to simple bricks and mortar. Or the lack thereof. The officials who wrote the documents talk of ministers intending to give “external audiences” the constant message that the “conversation” about social housing needs to change from being focused on how many houses will remain under Housing New Zealand’s control – and thus in state ownership – and how many will be sold to “community housing providers”.

The problem is that everyone can see National selling the houses, and nobody can see National replace them with anything. ? In the mean time, Labour and the Greens keep broadsiding with an “asset sale” message that, even though not correct, people can understand. ?

National is trying to shift attention to its objective of getting better housing outcomes for “poor and vulnerable” New Zealanders – and that it no longer matters who owns the house or who provides the accommodation-finding service.

There is an adage that if you’re able to frame the argument on your terms, you are halfway to winning it.

Try as it might, National has been unable to reframe this particular debate. National is handicapped by the sheer complexity of its bold plan to establish a market for social housing where voluntary organisations register as community housing providers and compete with a pared-back Housing New Zealand.

The model’s success will hinge in large part on the private providers securing sufficient housing stock to create something approximating a market. But that puts the focus straight back on state houses – and how much the Government will get from sales of such properties to those providers.

In the mean time, we have the MSM running hard luck stories about people being kicked out of their nice state houses with nowhere to go.

Whichever way you dress this up, it’s a bloody disaster. ?Too much energy is now going to have to be spent trying to turn this perception around, and they may not be successful in doing so. ?It will be an ongoing issue, and a series of free hits for Labour right into the election.


– NZ Herald