Review rocks tenants

BAD MOVE: Sue Williams and Pauline Johns love their pensioner flats in Grey Lynn. 
BAD MOVE: Sue Williams and Pauline Johns love their pensioner flats in Grey Lynn. 

State housing tenants are reeling at the news that all of their tenancies are up for review.

The Social Housing Reform Bill passed its third reading in Parliament on November 20 without a party vote being called.

About 3000 tenants are expected to be moved into private rental properties by 2017 as a result of the reviews.

The development is expected to cost the Government $46.8 million over two years because higher needs tenants who move into the empty state houses will be eligible for more financial support from benefits.

The bill says ministers will be able to identify groups of people such as the elderly or disabled who will not be subject to the reviews.

But Grey Lynn tenant Sue Williams is worried that there are no guarantees.

The 62-year-old says the news has caused people living in her block of Housing New Zealand pensioner flats undue stress.

"They always say they won't do it but it's not certain. It will be disastrous for us if it happens," she says.

"The sick and the elderly are the most vulnerable people in the country and it's even more stress that they really don't need."

Ms Williams says she does support parts of the bill including the aim of helping needy families.

She has been known to tell single friends living in two or three-bedroom state homes that they should move out and make room for bigger families in need.

"I just can't stand greed. One person does not need so many bedrooms. Housing is a basic need and it should be met."

Pauline Johns, 71, says her Grey Lynn pensioner flat is home.

"I've been here for about 15 years and I thought I was moving here for life.

"I think it would be quite terrible for me and most of us here."

Housing New Zealand tenants previously had security of tenure no matter what they earned, although their rent was altered if their income increased.

Only the 10,000 tenants who moved into state housing after July 1, 2011, were able to have their tenancies reviewed if their circumstances changed.

Housing advocate Sue Henry says the passing of the bill will come as a shock to many.

She has tenants from all over Auckland coming to her for help with housing problems, she says.

"What a Christmas present for tenants. In Auckland there's a massive amount of people renting off Housing New Zealand and no-one's been told. It's just going to send people into a panic."

The bill will enable private social housing providers such as the Salvation Army to receive the same rent subsidy as Housing New Zealand, allowing tenants to pay an income-related rent.

Housing Minister Nick Smith says there are 4000 tenants in state housing who can afford to pay market rent.

The reviewable tenancies will remove tenants' ability to stay in a state house for life, he says.

Mr Smith cites the example of a Nelson fishing boat captain who once had high needs but is now earning $100,000 and still lives in a state home. The tenancy could not been reviewed under the old legislation.

Maungakiekie MP Sam Lotu-Iiga supports the passing of the bill because it will give struggling families a better chance at getting housing.

"It is unacceptable that Housing New Zealand has more than 4000 tenants whose incomes are high enough to pay a market rent meanwhile we have the same number of high needs families on a waiting list unable to get housing."

Auckland City Harbour News