The application of the Jubilee Principle
to the Supply of Housing in Auckland.

1. A good regional society depends on the economic balance and social engagement between it's people.  In this talk we consider some measures to provide new housing in Auckland, using affordability to assess the degree of balance and engagement desired to ensure a good society into Auckland's future.

2. A statement about the good society that addresses this interface between church and the wider community, is possible only by taking two risks.
Firstly, there's the risk of being somewhat sweeping by characterising the teachings of Jesus as, "implementing the Jubilee Year for the excluded ones". I try to present the direction of Jesus' moral teaching judiciously. I don't intend to be reductionist.
Secondly, there is the risk of presupposing something about the economics of the present time. I make such economic presuppositions responsibly, I hope, even if they are somewhat speculative and untested.

3. However, I do claim practical involvement in the work of promoting the moral teachings of Jesus, through parish ministry in the Auckland region. And I have been associated with community economic development, through involvement with the supply of affordable housing in Auckland, working with the Co-operative Housing Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (CHAANZ) and the Just Housing Trust - the latter an initiative of Pax Christi, Aotearoa, a lay Catholic peace movement.

4. The central theme running through this statement is: community development through a structural approach to the supply of affordable housing. Community development is about dealing with alienation, or disengagement and imbalance, that exists in our society.

5. An engaged and balanced society, where housing is: "economically accessible, physically suitable to the users and sited where it can maximise opportunities for employment and recreation," - [ From a definition found in the Auckland District Plan: Isthmus Section - Human Environment 6.2.3 - Housing (1999) - updated 14/07/04 ], makes for a creative, life-affirming and inclusive way of being in our society.

6. Here lies a challenge for the Christian community. By measures we take now, we can contribute significantly to the development of our region, as it's population grows towards a projected two million souls by year 2050.

7. The current social strains and tensions warn us that we have to try new measures to deal with present disengagements and imbalances in our region. So in preparing for 2050, we need to begin making practical gestures that support households, so they can be more self-reliant, economically active and included, in the Auckland of the future. If we take up this challenge now, in the structural way I'm proposing, the year 2050 celebrations will avoid recognising a token spiritual milestone without any societal relevance. Instead, there will be concrete, practical achievements to celebrate!



Of the Households of Auckland

8. Households in the greater Auckland region currently come under one or other of the following broad classifications:
9. When households don't have enough income, they can't buy enough food, shelter, clothing and other necessities. With 25-35 percent of Auckland households classified as 'poor', income poverty is a huge problem. But at least twice as many households don't have sufficient assets - so they have lost their economic security and their ability to plan, dream and pass on opportunities to future generations.
Both income and assets are important measures of well-being. But when the problem is framed in terms of income, the solutions are framed in terms of income. Hence, reports of rising poverty are usually met with calls for greater income and other assistance, higher rental subsidies and increases in the minimum wage. The need for poor households to save and build assets, is only now beginning to be addressed. While the lack of income means households don't get by, the lack of assets means households don't get ahead!



Announcement of the Jubilee Principle

10. Any new measures in a regional housing policy, need to apply to both asset-poor and income-poor households. But before we consider a set of proposals that apply to both groups of households, let's turn briefly to our Christian tradition, for a word of guidance on problems of societal disengagement and imbalance.

11. The Christian scriptures affirm that Jesus' efforts were addressed precisely to those who had been excluded by the political power of imperial Rome, and by the laws of righteousness and holiness of Hebrew religion.
Jesus' first recorded announcement - in the gospel of Luke - anticipated a new inclusive community. Quoting from Leviticus, which referred to the Year of Jubilee, Jesus announces that His practice rehabilitates the marginal ones who have lost their goods and their social power (Lk.4:18-21, cf. Is.61:1ff).

12. The Year of Jubilee - or the Year of YHWH's favour - is the Hebrew tradition's most dangerous proposal. It proposes that every 49 years, the people who have lost their land and access to the goods and power that land symbolises, are enabled to, 'GO BACK TO GO AND COLLECT $200!' (cf. Leviticus 25).
Although there is no evidence that the Hebrews ever practised this seriously, they dreamed it, imagined it and hoped it! There are Christian scripture scholars who propose that Jesus got Himself killed, according to Luke, precisely because He was introducing the practice of Jubilee Year and the 'bankers' could not tolerate that!

13. Later in Luke's gospel, Jesus announces to John the Baptist, that His intention had been actualised (Lk.7:22). However, the process of inclusiveness is not yet complete in our society.

14. In our approach to imbalance and disengagement in contemporary Auckland, we will now touch briefly on some issues that would be affected by applying Jubilee-like measures to the provision of the region's housing.


The Application:

Applying the Jubilee Principle:
Providing Affordable Housing in Auckland

15. The following issues could be settled in favour of a household's ability to accumulate assets. In other words, these are the main issues that need to be addressed in the application of Jubilee-like measures to the provision of affordable housing in an urban area like Auckland.
15. In summary, the effect of the application of these practical building measures, each and severally, promises a reduction in living costs for a low-wage household with children. The process needs coordination from the not-for-profit housing provider driving the building programme and administering the land and safeguarding the integrity of the process and the people involved.

16. This amounts to a shift in our understanding of community development that would see housing become affordable and would encourage the conditions for economic balance and social engagement to flourish in Auckland.

Some Practical Further Steps

17. Retirement-aged couples who own large sections and who want to stay in their own homes might be willing to lease portions of their sections as housing sites for family homes for a contracted period--say 15 years minimum. In return for negotiated rate relief, they may be released from being forced to enter current reverse mortgage schemes, which accelerate the decline in home ownership for the next generation. The leased portions of their section could be used to site a community housing provider's minimalist homes and would be administered by such a housing provider.

18. Religious community with surplus land, instead of selling, may be willing to lease their land to site not-for-profit buildings. While retaining ownership of their land they make it possible for a community housing provider to establish the components of a decentralised urban "equity-farm" which will enable participating households to accumulate assets in the form of housing credits.

19. Another possibility is the sharing of Carbon Credits generated by the not-for-profit housing provider, giving low-waged households the right to benefits from the trading on the scheme's carbon neutrality.

Is This Realistic?

20. There are many practical questions that are open for discussion about making such community-based housing provisions work in the current unfavourable conditions we encounter in Auckland. We might have some time towards the end, to discuss some of those questions. But for the moment, by way of summary, let us review the implications of these proposals.

21. Now is the time to rethink the provision of affordable housing. It may be the most practical mechanism for investing in the future economic balance and social engagement of Auckland society which is in need of a process that allows low-waged households with children to not only get by if they live in the Auckland region, but will also guarantee a way for them to get ahead through the household's ability to accumulate assets and start on this pathway.

22. The concept of Jubilee is about practical measures and may hold wide societal appeal as a realistic way of 'restoring community' something that the social democratic movement (the rights of city workers to decent conditions) and the environmental movement (the application of wealthy life-styler values in urban areas) cannot by themselves achieve.

23. The proposal is to take measures to include household in new forms of wealth-creation, taking advantage of the utility-value in the house. The production of a carbon-neutral house or even a carbon-negative house allows the community housing providers to accelerate their wealth accumulation.

24. Articulating this application of jubilee, addresses deeper aspects of life that transcend our individualistic and materialistic and selfish culture.

25. I believe we can find the roots of a new progressive initiative in this transcendent concern, by rediscovering the aspects of life that on its good days the church articulates and cultivates at the very time the housing market deprives families of the opportunity to pursue a more truthful and a more authentic life.

26. We need a new approach to develop common moral stance against the dominance of speculative investment in housing. The anxiety and yearnings which ordinary parents harbour for the future for their children must be recognised. We need new measures that are rooted in the traditional concerns of progressive people for social justice in matters of the maldistribution of power and restore the capacity of people to pursue a truly fulfilling life.

27. These moral concerns, spanning both personal behaviour and broader social trends in the market, are the traditional ground of the church. We don't believe we can rely on the church as an institution, to source these new progressive policies in housing. But we believe that the answers will come form perceptive, inspired and compassionate individuals whose ideas combine structural analysis with a direct apprehension of the transcendent insights that underpin all deeper human yearnings.

28. The application of these values to an affordable housing programme in the way that we have been describing in outline, promises to translate the transcendent insights of the jubilee year of favour into a present reality that underpins a universal human yearning for liberation and inclusion in a balanced and engaged society.



Concluding Remarks

29. The success of any measures we may take to make Auckland housing more affordable, must not to be judged solely in economic terms. We have to ask how these measures touch the lives of the householders themselves. Do these measures acknowledge, value and protect a householder's dignity? Do they promote the common good of present and future citizens? And how well do the measures integrate the seemingly mutually exclusive interests of the various groups that make up Auckland society?

30. This outline of an affordable housing programme, is a statement about the means of producing inexpensive rental houses sited on leased community land. As the scheme matures, perhaps funded in large part through a cashing-in of carbon credits, not-for-profit housing providers could use such income to purchase land for further community housing use. The process has potential to become self-funding.

31. The practicality of these proposals depends on the prior establishment of the political will of government, the private sector finance houses and the community--to set as a joint policy objective the significant growth of a not-for-profit housing sector by 2020. The creation of a significant stock of such housing will also help to reduce the cost of housing for the average household - whatever shocks the economic climate and the conditions of trade throw at us in the future.

32. The intellectual capital for the infrastructure for such a programme has been researched with great rigour and testing (in the construction of more than 60 houses). The necessary products have been developed. The programme can start almost immediately. It our belief that not-for-profit housing providers can supply purpose-designed homes for every possible building site and we can prevent this type of housing standing out from the general housing stock as means-test-targeted, stigmatised housing.

33. Let us prepare for the next "year of favour," by implementing Jesus' values in supporting the adoption of these new housing measures.

Bill Fletcher


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