Many vacant houses quake-prone

KATHRYN KING KATHRYN.KING@MSL.CO.NZ
Last updated 12:00 18/06/2014

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Some Housing New Zealand properties in Palmerston North cannot house people because the buildings are earthquake prone or undergoing repairs, but there is no shortage, figures suggest.

According to data released under the Official Information Act, as of March 31, there were 1552 Housing NZ properties in Palmerston North, and 1420 "primary" tenants.

In April, the Ministry of Social Development took over responsibility for assessing people's eligibility and housing needs, and calculating income-related rents, but Housing NZ remains responsible for tenancy management.

Of the properties in Palmerston North, 130 were unoccupied, but only 25 were considered ready to let.

A further 12 properties that had been vacant in the short term were under repair, but 93 homes had been vacant long term.

That includes 77 earthquake-prone buildings, seven fire-damaged homes, one house pending sale and eight under development.

Housing NZ government relations manager Sharon Girvan said homes that had been vacant in the short term were on average empty for 95 days.

Long-term vacancies had been left unfilled for an average of 526 days, but that figure included earthquake-prone buildings that were not safe to house tenants.

Housing NZ property services general manager Marcus Bosch said the demolition of five earthquake-prone buildings on Rugby St in Palmerston North was almost complete.

"Because we have low demand for housing in the area and enough properties to house those in need, it simply didn't make sense for us to strengthen them."

Bosch said Housing NZ was in the final stages of deciding on the future of other earthquake-prone buildings in Palmerston North.

Those decisions would be based on how much of the new build standard the buildings met, the cost to strengthen them, their size and number of bedrooms and the demand for housing.

"While it's taken us longer than anticipated to make this decision, it's important we get it right as the removal of any state house must be considered carefully."

Bosche said there were seven fire-damaged properties in Palmerston North of which six were part of housing provided to a community group.

"We are looking to repair this complex so the group can return; we are currently temporarily housing them in other properties."

Of the 42 people waiting for housing at March 31, 14 had been on the list for up to 20 days, but five had been waiting for more than 101 days.

In 2013, 82 applications were turned down due to ineligibility, something Girvan said indicated the applicant could sustain a tenancy in the private sector.

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Just under half of the applications were cancelled because the hopeful tenant had not provided documents to confirm their circumstances. The next most common reason was because the application was withdrawn.

There were no evictions last year.

Manawatu Housing Advice Centre manager Sue Swinbourne said there appeared to be a "steady demand" for Housing NZ homes, and the centre referred clients there "very regularly".

- Manawatu Standard

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