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Capital makes soothing noises, but some are wary of housing review

Dec 1st, 2014 | By | Category: Latest News, News

housingWELLINGTON is trying to soothe fears that government plans to sell off state housing will affect council homes.

At a public forum on Wednesday, 40 people discussed social housing problems which need to be addressed.

Wellington City Councillor Paul Eagle acknowledged concerns that council housing could be affected by political influence.

“We are committed to staying firm about social housing in the long term,” says Mr Eagle, below, contrasting the city’s stance with the Government’s plan to sell state houses.

“They largely leave us alone to get on with what we do.”

The council is completing a $400 million housing upgrade with funding from the 2007 joint agreement with central government.

Mr Eagle leads the council’s community, sport and recreation committee, which approved a review of eaglepaul80its social housing last week.

While a radical shake-up is not planned, Wellington City Council wants to know what the community thinks about how it provides homes.

Doubt over these future changes were voiced at the forum organised by Mana Newtown chairperson Ariana Paretutanganui-Tamati.

She would like to see rent charged at no more than a quarter of a tenant’s income.

Council currently provides most of the city’s social housing with its policy offering rentals at 70% of the market rate.

“It’s a flat raAriana Paretutanganui-Tamatite for everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, and the council has taken note of that,” says Ms Paretutanganui-Tamati, left.

Housing New Zealand provides almost as many homes in Wellington city as the council.

Private landlords own about 3% of social housing.

Mana economic justice spokesperson John Minto, who travelled from Auckland for the forum questioned the ability of private landlords, including charities, to effectively manage social housing.

“There is no alternative for housing to support low income households. The government can implement it at a much lower cost than a private landlord would.”

Mr Minto, who is a secondary school teacher, says housing is a leading contributor to improving education and social welfare.

“Every Monday, 400 children change schools in Manukau alone,” says Mr Minto.

A current council housing tenant, who declined to give her name to NewsWire, says social housing provided a stable environment to grow up in.

She said it was a relief after a childhood where she moved often, and would like that security for others too.

A Wellington teacher at the forum said she had taught a child who enrolled 10 times in a single year.

Mr Minto says such transience is often caused by affordability of their homes, and having private sector running social housing would definitely mean higher rent.

“There will be a meeting on February 21 in Auckland to work out a national strategy for social housing,” he said.

Health researcher Nevil Pierse from Otago University’s He Kainga Oranga programme agreed with Mr Minto.

“No matter what way you look at it, the centre of this is poverty.”

“The biggest barrier for city housing remains that there is not enough of it. Upgrading is not enough to shelter the people stuck on a long waiting list for social housing.”nevil

“Many people struggle even on the subsidised rents, especially as these are always creeping upwards,” says Mr Pierse, right.

“I also suggest a focus on wraparound services for social housing like there used to be.”

The council owns about 2300 housing properties and does not earn an income from them.

Floors growing mushrooms and ceilings painted black from mould were familiar anecdotes of badly maintained properties.

Better communication needed between Housing NZ and city council

Councillor Eagle said he had visited an elderly tenant’s state housing at Britomart Flats in Berhampore, prior to its demolition last year.

Mr Eagle noticed the dark ceiling and asked the tenant if he had painted.

“He told me the colour was actually from mould. I think if I had pressed my hand against the wall harder, it would have given way.”

The resident has been relocated to a better home.

The council carries out housing inspections but Ms Paretutanganui-Tamati wants a formal warrant of fitness for all rentals to be enforced.

“I want them to keep doing what they’re doing and we urge them to stay independent from the government’s policies,” she says.

The council provides rent subsidies for tenants who pay more than 35% of their income but suggests many of them could be eligible for income support if they were housed by Housing New Zealand.

However, Housing NZ and the city council have different application processes.

vickiCouncil housing manager Vicki McLaren says communication could be better between the two organisations.

“There are separate processes and two waiting lists. Of course we do have some contact [with Housing NZ] on a day to day basis but we don’t have a close relationship, which is one of the things which we could look into.”

The council also wants feedback to improve its housing application process and provide support for tenants who want to move out.

Ms McLaren, right, says tenants were sent letters informing them in advance of the public discussion about the council’s policy review.

“There’s definitely a sense of nervousness. These are their homes we are talking about.”

Submissions on the Social Housing Rental Policy can be made till March 27, 2015.

It can be found on the council website and copies are also available at your local library.

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