The Press on Council housing

The Press editorial:

On the face of it, the attack last week by the Minister for Earthquake Recovery, Gerry Brownlee, appears to be amply justified.

While there may be room for quibbling about the exact numbers, the pace with which the has repaired and replaced the social housing damaged by the earthquakes has been slow.

Quoting from the council’s own latest report, the council has closed 327 social housing units but has managed, in a programme that is supposed to be urgent, to repair and relet only six of them.

Astonishing.

Brownlee is quite right to draw attention to it and to try to set a fire under councillors to get something done about it.

His singling out of Cr for criticism was, however, misdirected. It is possible to understand the minister’s temptation to target Johanson. In the political spectrum of the council, Johanson sits on the gadfly Left wing.

After some years in office, he still has the slightly bumptious and irritating air of the student politician about him. He is also not slow to criticise the performance of others.

Indeed.

So when the council fails in a serious responsibility he appears to be in charge of, one can see how taking a swipe at him would be hard to resist.

It is, nonetheless, unfair.

For one thing, while Johanson is chairman of the committee that is in charge of the social housing stock, he is only one councillor among the others. He is not like a minister of the Crown. Any failure with repairs to social housing lies not with Johanson alone but with the other councillors on his committee and with the whole council.

I agree, Johanson is not solely responsible. However his share of responsibility must be greater than other Councillors as he chairs the committee in charge.

Taking the opportunity provided by Brownlee’s broadside to have a dig of his own at Johanson, Cr Aaron Keown suggested there were tensions between Johanson’s committee and council staff that were impeding progress on repair work.

If that is correct, the remedy is not, as Keown suggested, to transfer the work to the committee on which Keown sits, but for any difficulties to be identified and fixed. Council staff must provide councillors with prompt, accurate, complete information, and councillors must provide staff with clear and precise directions.

It is hard to say what the solution is, until we know what the problem is. The Council needs to clarify why it has only been able to fix six houses in two years and what changes are necessary to speed this up.

It was almost exactly a year ago that Brownlee lit a rocket under the Housing Corporation for its apparent lethargy on getting state houses repaired and replaced. More action quickly followed.

Beleaguered city council tenants will be hoping his latest blast will be as effective.

That would be good.

Personally this reinforces my belief that Councils should not be landlords. They tend to be very bad at it, and providing community housing is better done by Housing NZ and community groups. If the Council was not the owner, I suspect many more of those houses or apartments would be repaired by now.

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