Amicus Curiae: To Merge or Not to Merge? That is the Question

Content Contributor, Ashley Wainstein

The housing crisis in New Zealand has been at the forefront of concern in recent years with house prices increasing at what seems to be an exponential rate, fuelled by an influx of overseas investors and property investment speculation. This issue has gone on to affect New Zealanders in a severe way: homelessness. Homelessness has become a real issue in New Zealand and is linked to the current property market experiencing sky-rocketing prices. Arguably, government involvement and regulation, or lack thereof, is also contributing to this issue. The problem is further strained by what has been recognised as an absence of proper assessment between beneficiary agencies: Housing NZ and Work and Income NZ. This problem is what has prompted an inquiry by the Labour Party, the Greens and the Maori party, all of which who have proposed merging both agencies into one.

Te Puea Marae spokesperson, Hurimoana Dennis, calls for greater organisational efficiency in sorting individuals and whānau into suitable housing with adequate financial assistance. In the last three months Te Puea Marae has taken in over 170 families in trying to alleviate the pressure of what is recognised as a real and critical issue of homelessness in Auckland. Inquirers into the issue of homelessness have identified that part of the problem is incompetent state services and the inefficiency that is bred due to poor communication and inconsistency between these two government agencies, Work and Income and Housing NZ. The current separation has been said to cause inadequate assistance to those who are deprived of suitable housing, and that those who are in need of homes are not receiving the financial support and assistance necessary to properly provide for themselves and their whānau.

The plan to merge both organisations is aimed at better establishing who in fact needs proper housing and arranging the quickest means of providing them with one. As mentioned earlier, the problem rests in a lack of communication between services and often an inefficient use of finances. It has been reported that in a number of cases with people needing homes, these individuals have been kept waiting months, even years, for adequate housing. In the meanwhile, they were given unreliable grants to stay in motels that would cost, in one particular case, $770 per week by Work and Income. In cases like these, there might have been better outcomes if Housing NZ were involved, in addition to Work and Income lending financial assistance. The uncertainty around this type of assistance does nothing to alleviate the issues that lead to homelessness, such as unemployment and financial hardship, which some families are desperately suffering from.

However, a potential concern that may crop up from this sort of consolidation of services is a dilution of specialised assistance and support. This may lead the exclusion of cases potentially deemed not serious enough to warrant the action of this proposed combined agency, as it weighs a greater impetus on striking down specifically the housing crisis rather than general financial assistance and housing support. While the two services do overlap, a distinction would be needed when hearing claims so that the appropriate service can be provided. There may be a greater influx of those requesting housing and difficulty in discerning those that need permanent residency or temporary accommodation. The process in figuring out these requirements would need to be more stringent in order to avoid possible inequality of service delivery. However, this may result in an adverse reaction where those who require certain assistance are not being properly seen to and cases of hardship therefore persist.

This proposition comes at a very tense time in terms of market stability and consequent social welfare vulnerability. The submission to merge these two agencies is in an effort to reform the issue of homelessness and poverty in New Zealand and provide families and individuals with the adequate support they need at the most efficient cost, so that the government can invest in further regulation to remedy these types of social ills while still maintaining a healthy economy.

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