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New Zealand's PM Ardern reshuffles cabinet to tackle housing crisis

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New Zealand's PM Ardern reshuffles cabinet to tackle housing crisis
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attends a news conference after meeting with first responders who were at the scene of the Christchurch mosque shooting, in Christchurch, New Zealand March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su   -   Copyright  EDGAR SU(Reuters)
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WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday replaced the housing minister and appointed a team of senior officials to tackle New Zealand’s housing crisis, in her first cabinet reshuffle since taking power in 2017.

Ardern, 38, enjoys celebrity status overseas but her government has been criticised at home for falling short on some of its promises, especially to build affordable homes.

Ardern appointed Energy Minister Megan Woods as housing minister, replacing Phil Twyford who has come under fire in recent months for the failure of a government project to build housing called KiwiBuild.

Woods will lead a three-member team that will look into government housing. The team includes Twyford and the minister of broadcasting and communications, Kris Faafoi.

“KiwiBuild has not progressed as well or as quickly as we’d hoped or expected,” Ardern said at a news conference announcing the reshuffle.

“It has become clear to me that the range of challenges in fixing the housing crisis are too great for one minister. Therefore, I am putting in place a team of senior ministers to deliver the full breadth of our housing plan, from KiwiBuild right through to tackling homelessness,” she said.

House prices in New Zealand have soared more than 50 percent over the past decade, and almost doubled in its biggest city of Auckland.

The centre-left government promised it would deliver 100,000 homes through KiwiBuild over 10 years, but the plan is far behind schedule with only a few hundred built.

This was Ardern’s first cabinet reshuffle since taking office in 2017, although last year she asked two ministers to step aside.

Since taking office, Ardern has increased the minimum wage and boosted benefits for poor families, but has faced several economic and political problems.

Primary school teachers, nurses and bus drivers walked off work several times over the past year demanding better wages and fewer working hours. Business confidence in the government sank to decade lows last year and is still subdued.

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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