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Trust House tenants gain access to subsidy

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 11:56 08/08/2014
Wairarapa housing
LOREN DOUGAN/FAIRFAX NZ
HOUSE RULES: Tuihana Babbington, with daughters Tira, in pink, and Meretini, longs to have the extra cash a low-income subsidy would proivde but is unsure whether she's willing to move into one of Trust House's former state homes, such as the one behind her.

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A new scheme launched in Wairarapa will allow low-income earners to access a government housing subsidy denied to them until now.

Masterton community enterprise Trust House this week became the country's first non-governmental community housing provider to be fully registered as a "social landlord" with the government's Community Housing Regulatory Authority.

Having met criteria set by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Trust House can now rent its 484 former state houses to recipients of an income-related rent subsidy - previously available only to Housing New Zealand tenants.

People who qualify for the subsidy pay no more than a quarter of their income in rent, but previously had to move out of Wairarapa to get it, as there are no Housing NZ properties in the region.

Trust House, formed in 1998 to run Masterton Licensing Trust businesses, bought every state house from Martinborough to Dannevirke in a major 1999 deal. Chief executive Allan Pollard called the registration a win-win.

The enterprise often earned significantly less than market rent from its properties but, under the subsidy scheme, remaining rent due on top of 25 per cent of a tenant's income is paid by the government, allowing Trust House to get true market value.

This would open the way for increased spending on the properties and also on community initiatives and assets, including new "wrap-around" social services planned for low-income tenants, he said.

Work on the houses would be on top of major improvements Trust House had carried out since 1999, including insulating 85 per cent of them in partnership with the Wairarapa Healthy Homes project, chaired by former Masterton mayor Bob Francis.

Francis said Trust House was "an excellent landlord" and deserved its new status, but called on the Government to continue providing social housing.

"Trust House couldn't be seen as someone only looking at profit, I think they've got a wider community view and brief - but certainly putting [social housing] totally into private hands, I wouldn't agree with that."

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson welcomed the change but said it was unfair that the subsidy would be available only to new tenants.

Pollard confirmed current tenants would receive it only if they moved out, applied for the subsidy and then moved back in after a three-month stand-down period, but said Trust House's hands were tied by MBIE policy.

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"We'd be in favour of all our tenants being means tested and, if everyone qualified, we'd be happy."

In the context of the Government's intention of selling a chunk of its housing stock and increasing the involvement of non-governmental organisations in affordable housing, Pollard said the registration would allow the trust to increase its portfolio to 2000 properties in new areas such as New Plymouth and Hastings by 2017.

Young mum fears 'low-income' stigma

A rent subsidy would let a young mum pay off her power bill, get swimming lessons for her girls and maybe even a car - but the windfall may come at too high a price.

Tuihana Babbington pays more than half her single parent benefit to rent the privately owned Masterton home she and her daughters, aged 6 and 7, moved into two months ago.

At the time she was told she qualified for the Government's income-related rent subsidy and so would have to pay only a quarter of her income in rent if she moved into a Housing New Zealand-owned home - but Wairarapa doesn't have any. Now her current rental is on the market, so at any time she could be forced out.

But under changes announced yesterday, if she moves into one of Trust House's 484 former state houses in Wairarapa, she could get the subsidy and a lot more leeway in her budget.

She welcomed the development and would consider moving, but was concerned that people accepting the subsidy - and their children - could end up being stigmatised as "low-income families".

She wanted a house with plenty of space, that was warm, dry, secure and in a safe, caring neighbourhood. If Trust House and government agencies could provide those elements, and also spend money on building strong communities, she would be supportive. "It's not just about getting people into those homes and feeling good about themselves . . . community services and organisations need to come into play."

But she was torn, speaking longingly of the subsidy. "We've had to pull out of swimming because I couldn't afford it . . . that sort of thing just isn't happening."

- The Dominion Post

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