Should people be able to refuse state housing in rough suburbs?
Families struggling to find affordable homes are turning up their noses at the state housing on offer in Napier's poorest suburb, with Housing New Zealand saying it has 45 homes for which it cannot find tenants.
That was backed up by 20-year-old mother of two Harley Marsh, who is desperate for a Housing NZ house. "But I don't want to live there," she said, pointing to a row of multiblock properties in Maraenui.
The suburb is known to be home to many of the town's Mongrel Mob members.
Napier city councillor Michelle Pyke said that although the suburb had a "bad rep", it was more the state of the housing that was putting people off living there. "If they were good landlords, they would be in a good state, then people would want to live in them."
However, Salvation Army communities manager Chris Morgan said he knew of families who would move in if they could. "It's better than living in one room in a house with another family."
Nationally, 4842 people were on Housing NZ's waiting list at the end of last month. Spokeswoman Marie Winfield said Housing NZ always told its applicants that their likelihood of getting a house could be increased by moving regions, but it could not make people move if they didn't want to.
Councillor Maxine Boag said a Housing NZ policy change meant fewer low-income families were eligible for state homes and were having to turn to more expensive private rentals or live in garages or caravans.
Most of the empty houses in Maraenui have three bedrooms but, under the new regulations, a single mother with two children must now wait for a two-bedroom house rather than occupy a vacant three-bedroom one.
Tenancy data show there are 51 vacant three-bedroom Housing NZ homes in Napier. Just 11 people are waiting for a three-bedroom home.
"They could be securing these and collecting rent, by housing many of the families desperately in need of affordable housing, but who do not now qualify," Ms Boag said.
However, Sean Bignell, general manager for asset development at Housing NZ, said: "If they truly need and are eligible for the rental of a state house, then they will be offered one."
He admitted there was no "quick fix" for Maraenui. Housing NZ had engaged experts to look into redeveloping the suburb.
61 per cent of people in Maraenui over the age of 15 earned $20,000 or less a year in the last census (2006).
13 per cent unemployment for people of 15 and over.
37 per cent of people in work were labourers.
54.8 per cent of inhabitants were Maori.
34.2 per cent were 15 or younger.
44.6 per cent of families were solo-parent families.
The average household had 3.3 people.
50.7 per cent of those aged 15 and over had no formal qualifications.
Source: Statistics NZ, 2006 Census
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