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September 9, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Sticking It to the Rents: the VUWSA Housing Forum

VUWSA is hoping a proposed Bill will be a local anaesthetic to students’ housing pains.

Wednesday’s AGM will be followed by a Housing Forum, where VUWSA will announce plans for a ‘rental warrant of fitness’ local Bill. The Bill would set up a warrant-of-fitness scheme for rental properties, enforcing a minimum standard for rental properties throughout Wellington by way of Government legislation.

The Housing Forum is aimed at hearing students’ stories on the quality and price of accommodation in Wellington. Attending the Forum will be councillors including Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, and other community groups who will speak on some of the issues facing students living in substandard housing conditions. VUWSA President Rory McCourt hopes students will bring their own ideas to the forum, stating the proposed local Bill is just “one aspect of a solution to the housing problem”.

While VUWSA hopes a local Bill will have wide support among Wellington City Council (WCC) councillors, it is as yet unclear whether this will be the case. In March, VUWSA sought a bylaw to introduce minimum rental-housing standards, with Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett stating at the time that regulation for minimum housing standards would be best brought in at the national level.

The Bill’s success may also depend on the outcome of October’s mayoral election. While current Mayor Celia Wade-Brown is supportive of the idea, there is no guarantee a new mayor would be, should Wade-Brown fail to be re-elected. However, the Bill’s success is not entirely dependent on the views of the Mayor, as the Council votes as a whole. VUWSA has talked to “most councillors”, according to McCourt, “most” of whom are in support of the Bill and suggest a majority will be reached on Council. Councillor and leading mayoral candidate John Morrison did not return Salient’s calls.

VUWSA’s push for a local Bill follows a similar move by the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA), which announced measures in July to get a local Bill before Parliament to fix Dunedin’s housing problems. When asked in July, VUWSA President Rory McCourt described OUSA’s local Bill idea as “really interesting”, and said VUWSA would monitor OUSA’s outcomes. He has since been impressed with OUSA’s progress.

“We’ve kept a close eye on OUSA and we’re really pleased to see [their Bill] is workable and gaining traction. There’s no reason to think here in windy, wet Wellington we can’t do the same,” said McCourt.

VUWSA has talked to certain community groups, such as Grey Power, to gauge response, but has not yet talked to landlords or property owners. McCourt says VUWSA will do this during the drafting process, though landlords’ previous stance on similar issues suggests they are unlikely to get on board with the latest scheme.

The New Zealand Property Investors’ Federation has previously stated warrants of fitness are “not the solution to unhealthy homes”, and one landlord spoken to by Salient last week was sceptical of the proposed Bill.

“Legislation to improve housing would have to make allowances to cover more of my expenses, to be honest. Take insulation costs for example—they’re not tax-deductible.

“Students know that having a cold flat is part-and-parcel of the whole experience.”

While a national warrant of fitness for rental housing is currently being developed, this will be trialled on state houses first. There is no current timeline for a wider roll-out of the policy, meaning students in rental properties are unlikely to be affected in the short- to medium-term by the Government’s measures.

“Officials are continuing to work on the elements of housing conditions to be included in a WoF and how it will be assessed, administered and enforced,” said Minister of Housing Dr Nick Smith in May.

FROM A DREAM TO REALITY? VUWSA’S PLAN FOR RENTAL STANDARDS

  1. VUWSA announces plans for a rental WOF local Bill, in partnership with Celia Wade-Brown.

  2. The Wellington City Council will draft the Bill, with cooperation from VUWSA.

  3. The Council has to pass a motion to support the Bill at a Council meeting. Local bills are supposed to be uncontroversial, so whether the Bill fits this criteria will be up for debate.

  4. The Bill will be presented to Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson. Robertson has already committed to sponsoring the Bill in Parliament.

  5. Robertson will give notice to the Clerk of the House, who will introduce the Bill to Parliament where it will progress to a first reading like any other Bill.

  6. When the first reading will occur depends on a few things: its place on the Order paper (i.e. how many other bills are also coming up for Parliament to debate), and how long it takes the Attorney-General to decide whether the Bill complies with the Bill of Rights Act (this shouldn’t take long).

  7. If the Bill gets to Parliament, it is expected to pass, as Governments seldom vote down local bills.
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  1. Wade-Brown and students to announce Rental WOF scheme | WCC Watch | September 10, 2013

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