Hard News by Russell Brown


This. Is. Crazy.

It's eight days since the Prime Minister airily assured Guyon Espiner on Morning Report that "in my experience with Work and Income", homeless people could go along to their local office and get sorted with some emergency housing.

We now know that what that means is that Work and Income will place people in spartan accommodation on very high rents and then lodge those rents as a debt against them, even if they have no means of repaying it.

Another Morning Report story broadcast this morning looks at where that leads and cites, among others, the case of a mother of eight who now owes Work and Income $60,000 because she has had nowhere else to go but the accommodation that is costing her more than $1200 a week.

The woman was evicted by Housing New Zealand months ago after "methamphetamine contamination" was detected at her home. The story says it's "unclear" whether the contamination happened during her tenancy or is the fault of a previous tenant.

Auckland Action Against Poverty cooordinator Alastair Russell explains in the report that there is a mandatory 12-month ban under Housing New Zealand's meth policy.

"So she'll clock up this debt for another six months and then go back to Housing New Zealand seeking assistance with a debt of probably in excess of $100,000."

The aggravation here is Housing New Zealand's zero-tolerance policy, which is not connected to the Ministry of Health guidelines  (which only cover clan lab remediation anyway), but is, so far as I can tell, triggered by any detection at all of methamphetamine residue in a building. 

The problem here, as toxicologists explained to the Science Media Centre back in March, is that residues from meth being smoked – as opposed to manufacture, which involves dangerous chemicals and real health risks – pose, at worst, a "minimal" risk of toxicity.

There is a further problem in that the companies which carry out such testing operate in an unlicensed environment. There are no standards for the services they offer.

So on a scientific level, the HNZ policy is woo. But it's not about science. They're not testing for health risks; they're testing for tenant lifestyle. And they're using tenant lifestyle as a pretext for generating churn in the inadequate stock of public housing, because the only way they can get more people into public housing is to get other people out out of it.

Perhaps this mother allowed meth to be smoked in her house, perhaps a previous tenant did. But is throwing her and eight children out on the street really a sensible or humane response? Especially when the upshot is that she will have to return to be re-housed after her stand-down and the only difference is that she will then be carrying a crippling debt?

This. Is. Crazy.

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