Social Housing in New Zealand: Does Social enterprise fit into this mix?

EMES Conferences Selected Papers Series, ECSP-5EMES-12

Provision of shelter is a basic human need, however, the significance of housing reaches beyond providing a place to reside and sleep. Housing is significant to our quality of life. The location, duration and affordability of housing in turn influence our access to work and education, our health and wellbeing (The Salvation Army, 2015). Our ability to meet extended family commitments may be influenced by housing circumstances, as may our sense of safety and security. Housing encompasses a broad spectrum from homelessness to home ownership. The focus within this paper is on social housing, a form of affordable housing1 .

In New Zealand we understand social housing generally as “the provision of assistance with housing to those who cannot otherwise meet their own housing needs” (Housing Shareholders Advisory Group, 2010; p.13). Assistance may take many forms, for example from rent subsidies to increase affordability or provision of a dwelling. As discussed later in the paper, participants in this research have defined social housing even further, whereby assistance may also include provision of social services support as may be required by tenants. Internationally, the provision of social housing has increasingly become aligned with social enterprise (Czischke, Gruis, & Mullins, 2012), however these links are still tenuous in New Zealand‟s emergent approach to social enterprise (Grant, 2008; Kaplan, 2013).

Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC), as the crown agent, has traditionally provided housing services to people in need (Murphy, 2003), but change is afoot. Social housing in New Zealand is facing a significant change with central government introducing major reforms in 2014 which reflect international trends of decreasing government involvement in housing provision (Clapham, 2005; Housing Shareholders Advisory Group, 2010). The key objective of these current reforms is to “create a market with a diverse range of providers and a greater role of other providers” (Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, 2015).

This aim could be interpreted to suggest scope to enhance social outcomes, but how such outcomes might be achieved are still to be decided. Social service providers, not for profit housing providers and local councils are now reflecting on how (or even if) they will fit into this new landscape. Amid the anticipated increase in community based social housing providers, the question of what contribution social enterprise might bring to this new dynamic (see for example Blessing, 2015; Czischke, et al., 2012) is but one of many to consider. Although the intent and stated objectives of the reforms has been made clear by government, how this policy will become action is still being decided at a national level. Consistent with social constructionist concerns Marsh (1998) identifies how policy is but one influence which shapes social housing.

Policy is located within the context of many other influences at macro and micro levels. For example, demographic, social and economic changes all have direct influence on social housing at the macro (national) level. Influences at the micro (e.g. regional/city level) may be more variable. Through this paper I present research in progress which seeks to understand how SE might fit into the emerging New Zealand social housing environment, with a specific focus on the Hamilton City/Waikato region. Analyses of conversations with participants and key themes which have emerged help indicate driving influences upon the strategy building process, which in turn helps determine where and how social enterprise might fit into this new environment.

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