After what seems like half a year of trying, the pressure on Gerry Brownlee has finally seen him do something about the housing problem in the city. I say problem, because while critics call it a “crisis”, Brownlee still maintains that what we have are “difficulties”. He says housing difficulties, in the face of overwhelming evidence from the news media that has shown people living in what are frankly third-world conditions across the city, especially in the east. Many of those who are fortunate enough to have houses are paying exorbitant increases in rents, as the market tightens.
However, I’ve talked about the housing crisis before, and I don’t intend to go into it again here. What both interests and frightens me is the way Brownlee seems to be only selectively listening to the people on the ground. The CERA legislation created a powerful organisation, with a strong hierarchical command structure. This top-down approach is key to getting important decisions made quickly, and then executed in an appropriate time-frame. There are also downsides to taking such an approach. Because of the powers concentrated at the top of this hierarchy – powers which are the most over-arching ever given outside of wartime in this country – there isn’t a problem unless Gerry says there is a problem. Forget the reality – a crisis isn’t a crisis unless Gerry says it’s a crisis.
What this approach lacks is the flexibility to respond to a rapidly changing situation, the transparency to properly explain difficult decisions, and the compassion to appeal to the delicate states which so many people living in the city find themselves in. Brownlee has been portrayed as a bulldozer, a bully, a wrecking ball – and doesn’t seem to mind such analogies. There were times when that approach might have been appropriate – but right now, our city needs a softer touch.