Union disputes need for house demolition

Manawatu Tenants Union boss Kevin Reilly has led a small protest against the demolition of several Palmerston North state houses on Rugby St.

Reilly and his supporters picketed the site yesterday where five double-storey buildings are being demolished after Housing New Zealand decided it was not worth upgrading them to withstand a moderate earthquake.

The fate of another 16 Housing NZ buildings in the city is expected to be announced shortly.

Reilly saw the loss as a symptom of the Government's lack of commitment to providing affordable rental housing in the provinces.

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford this month released Housing NZ projections that indicated Palmerston North had about 500 more state houses than it was expected to need in future.

Manawatu, Horowhenua and Rangitikei were also likely to face cuts.

Reilly did not accept Housing NZ claims that there was a low demand for social housing in the city.

He said the tenants union regularly dealt with people who were in deep trouble, facing poverty and living in unsatisfactory accommodation.

Many of them could not afford to pay private rentals, slipped behind in their payments, and then faced eviction.

Having fewer state houses available would only deepen the problem of homelessness, he said.

Housing NZ property services general manager Marcus Bosch said three of the five buildings had been demolished and work on the other two would begin next month. The buildings had been assessed by engineers as meeting 10 per cent or less of building standards.

"Because they had such a low rating - it would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for us to make them safe for tenants.

"They also required significant upgrade to make them warmer and drier.

"We have low demand for housing in the area and enough properties in Palmerston North to house those in need.

"It simply didn't make sense for us to strengthen them.

"Once removed the land will be tided and maintained until any redevelopment plans progress.

"We will be engaging with a range of agencies including (Palmerston North City Council) over potential redevelopment options."

There were 1520 Housing NZ homes in Palmerston North and a low demand for state housing in the city, Bosch said.

Housing NZ was in the final stages of assessing the remaining 16 earthquake-prone state house buildings in Palmerston North to determine if strengthening was an option, Bosch said.

"Decisions to demolish are not taken lightly."

Manawatu Standard