Plans to bump people off state housing list 'unwarranted attack' - Labour

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says state housing tenants are turning down properties for inappropriate reasons, ...
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says state housing tenants are turning down properties for inappropriate reasons, such as birds chirping too loudly.

Plans to bump people off the state housing list if they turn down too many properties are "an unwarranted attack on the country's most vulnerable people", Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford says.

Twyford savaged Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett for her suggestion that tenants were rejecting state houses without good reason, accusing her of "mocking and caricaturing" Kiwis who were struggling to find a suitable home to live in.

Bennett told a housing conference on Thursday morning the Government was considering a stand-down period for those who rejected state houses without good reason.

She said officials had told her over 400 people turned down properties in the last year for unacceptable reasons, such as "birds chirping in the trees next door, wanting a bigger back yard for a trampoline, and not liking the colour a door was painted".

Twyford said Bennett had "made a career out of attacking the very people she's meant to represent and serve".

"I think it's the height of hypocrisy today for Paula Bennett to be mocking state house tenants, saying that they're refusing houses because of the birds chirping and the neighbour's trees, when we know that the real reason people are turning down houses is that they're worried cold, damp, mouldy houses are killing their children."

He accused Bennett of an "unwarranted and hypocritical attack on some of the country's most vulnerable people", saying she had mocked and caricatured state housing tenants in a way that was unrepresentative of why New Zealanders were turning down state housing.

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Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said the Government's plans were "too harsh", and a number of factors needed to be taken into account.

"There was a woman in Hastings who was offered a house next to three derelict houses and she had concerns for the safety of her children. If she rejected that she would be off.

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"But why would you put your family at risk knowing that there are squatters and all sorts of things going on in the derelict houses around you because the Government is stalling, either fixing them, moving them, on or selling them on."

People were still living in cars and on the streets and it was not being addressed fast enough, Fox said.

Bennett also told the Community Housing Aotearoa conference that community housing providers would need to become more commercial to succeed, while large-scale capital grants were not the solution to creating growth in the sector.

"The Government wants to be working with organisations that are sustainable in the long term, and one-off capital grants up front aren't the way to achieve that.

"Instead, you are going to need to be commercial to be sustainable."

The Government had introduced long-term contracts for housing providers so they could have guaranteed income for up to 25 years, which would provide the reliability needed for additional investment from banks and financiers.

"We are offering you a double A rated, Government-guaranteed investment product: if we took something like this to the open market, investors would climb over broken glass to grab long-term rental contracts," Bennett said.

The Government would consider "front-loading" a portion of the overall value of a long-term contract to housing providers which they could use for a deposit, she said.

Community Housing Aotearoa director Scott Figenshow said access to capital was still a challenge for community housing providers, and organisations were "yet to exactly get a clear picture" on how access to government funding would change.

"There certainly needs to be a range of options: there needs to be capital grants, rent subsidies, there needs to be access to Crown land, we need to make all those pieces work."

While providing 25-year contracts was "a big step forward", the Government needed to make sure the contracts were available across the country and not simply in areas of high need like Auckland.

 

 - Stuff

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