State houses sitting empty
State houses are sitting empty while people below the poverty line cry out for affordable housing, says a visiting Labour MP.
Phil Twyford, Labour's housing spokesman, spent yesterday in Palmerston North looking at housing issues with city MP Iain Lees-Galloway.
Mr Twyford said Housing NZ had 90 properties in Palmerston North that were unavailable to rent either because they were earthquake prone or needed work.
But instead of investing in properties that people needed, the Government was letting millions of dollars of assets sit empty and unproductive.
"What's going on here is happening all over regional New Zealand," he said.
Mr Twyford yesterday visited the empty flats in Rugby St that have sat idle since before the last election, as well as some of the flats emptied last year because they were deemed earthquake prone.
Adding to this was a tightening by the Government of the criteria to get onto waiting lists so that few people were eligible, Mr Twyford said.
While that had cut waiting lists "in half" it did not help people below the poverty line living in substandard, overcrowded accommodation.
Mr Twyford said Labour would invest in new state homes, though how many was yet to be announced, and if vacant state homes were to be sold the proceeds would go into other properties.
A Housing NZ spokeswoman said a decision on the future of the earthquake-prone state houses, as well as the Rugby St flats and vacant Housing NZ land on Botanical Rd, would be made in April.
A spokesperson for Housing Minister Nick Smith said new homes were being built where there was "proven demand" for them.
"Over the next two years there are plans to build 2000 nationwide. However, the advice from Housing NZ is that, generally speaking, they have enough houses in Palmerston North to meet demand. If demand increased, we would look to increase our house numbers." The spokesman said Housing NZ assessed a range of factors when determining who was eligible. "They include income, how adequate and suitable their current accommodation is, and whether they have particular needs that might make it difficult to find accommodation in the private sector.
"The minister has previously stated that state housing should be focused on people with highest housing need, and anyone who genuinely can't afford, access or sustain accommodation on their own is likely to be eligible for a state house."
Housing NZ has 1520 homes in its Palmerston North region of which 28 are ready to let. There were about 30 people on its waiting list, which the spokesperson said indicated there were enough homes in the city to match people's needs.