Kāinga Ora Chief Executive Officer Andrew McKenzie sets out three new approaches the agency is adopting to meeting familiar housing challenges.

Kāinga Ora Chief Executive Officer Andrew McKenzie

No human need is more fundamental than housing. A home is the base we build our lives on, and at Kāinga Ora we help meet this need for all New Zealanders.

In the overwhelming majority of cases this is positive. Some 200,000 people build their lives in our homes. They are good neighbours and good members of their communities.

But there are challenges. And these produce the demanding and in some cases totally unacceptable situations that have drawn public concern this week. This can pose a huge demand on the people directly affected. It also means a tiny minority has an unfair negative impact on the great majority of people living in Kāinga Ora homes. We want Kāinga Ora homes and the communities they are in to be secure and pleasant places to live. The Ministry of Social Development assess housing need and Kāinga Ora and community housing providers then provide the homes. Our duty is to help house the people who are determined to be most in need and to treat everybody fairly.

When problems arise we seek good outcomes for the people we house and their communities. Within the terms of our mandate we work to meet everyone’s needs.

Inevitably this can involve a balancing act. No one wants to see homelessness. We house people in need and very often their children. But we also know no one wants to live next door to the extreme cases described this week.

Where there is a question of illegal behaviour we support the involvement of police. The most difficult cases are where behaviours fall short of breaking the law but still cause real distress. Often we make progress by working with people and families directly and other specialist agencies in addressing the very different life circumstances people come from and their sometimes quite complex needs.

We are asked why we don’t evict people faster. Eviction was common several years ago but is now a last resort. Experience has shown it does not solve problems. The impact on families, and on children, who make up half the people we house, can be traumatic and long lasting.  Evicted people still need housing, creating a revolving door. Problems compound and perpetuate.

Managing these cases has been a priority for Kāinga Ora. Since 2017 we have adopted approaches that have improved our ability to support behaviour change where needed. These include formal partnerships with justice, social and health agencies, specialised intervention teams, tenant transfer policies and community based teams.

We have an intensive tenancy management service, with dedicated and specialist staff who work with other agencies to address issues, and we’ve seen good outcomes. We’re partnering locally to help manage complex cases, and one example is the work we’ve been doing since 2018 in Redhill, Auckland with the Papakura Marae to improve the health and wellbeing of customers living in the area with good results.

We relocate people where needed. Last year, we relocated 159 households and rehoused 30, working closely with relevant support services.

We acknowledge more can be done. We have listened to calls for us to act sooner, and we are introducing more changes to make this happen. Currently we have three initiatives underway that we expect to bring significant gains.

First, we are taking up new provisions in the Residential Tenancy Act that came into force in February, and provide more scope to address disruptive behaviour faster by transfer to alternative housing. We always have moved people. Where warranted, the Act will now help us do so more directly and faster.

Second, our new Customer Programme significantly increases capacity in our frontline teams, which will reduce the number of homes our people look after. This will mean our most experienced and proven teams can focus on working with a smaller group of tenancies.

Third, we are expanding a new Review Group to escalate and respond to difficult and complex situations faster drawing on wide input from other social agencies.

All these initiatives will be underpinned by closer collaboration with other agencies with expertise and responsibility in addressing common underlying factors of unacceptable behaviours.

No policies will ever make all the tough challenges go away.

But they will help Kāinga Ora meet a fundamental need for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.

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Page updated: 30 November 2021