Hundreds of empty state houses in Wellington, while 523 wait for new home

A boarded up Housing NZ home in Porirua.
VIRGINIA FALLON/ FAIRFAX NZ

A boarded up Housing NZ home in Porirua.

Hundreds of Housing New Zealand properties in the Wellington region are empty, while hundreds of people wait for a new home.

A combination of earthquake strengthening, methamphetamine contamination and "pending sales" is keeping 486 state homes in the area out of the hands of the 523 people that need them.

Across New Zealand, 2486 houses are vacant, and 5012 would-be tenants crowd the waiting list.

The door is open, but no one is home in this state house.
VIRGINIA FALLON/ FAIRFAX NZ

The door is open, but no one is home in this state house.

Housing NZ says the vacant properties are a small proportion of its more than 64,000 houses nationwide, and it is not unexpected for there to be vacancies.

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However, Salvation Army policy analyst Allan Johnson believes the government organisation has left the properties empty on purpose to justify selling them off.

An empty state house in Porirua.
VIRGINIA FALLON/ FAIRFAX NZ

An empty state house in Porirua.

"The properties aren't used because they're empty, not because there aren't people needing them."

The issue of earthquake strengthening state houses was "convenient", and methamphetamine contamination was used as a guise to let houses sit empty, he said. Meanwhile, the country needed more social housing.

"It has been orchestrated for political purposes and people have been offered a moral panic. It's not an easy fix, but if we work hard we could see an improvement."

Windows are boarded up in empty state houses.
VIRGINIA FALLON/ FAIRFAX NZ

Windows are boarded up in empty state houses.

Lower Hutt topped the region with 184 vacant homes, followed by Wellington City with 136, just ahead of Porirua's 126. The three areas also have the highest concentration of Housing NZ homes.

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Housing NZ splits the properties into short and long-term vacant. In the region, 118 homes are short-term vacant, meaning they will be tenanted in up to five weeks. Of the 368 that are long-term, 57 are contaminated by meth, 100 are for sale and 128 are earthquake-prone.

Bill English, the minister responsible for Housing NZ, has been overseas, but his office issued a statement last week saying Housing NZ had sold houses that were deemed to be in the wrong location or wrong size for tenants, demolished older properties and replaced them with new ones.

It was aiming to build 2000 new homes in the next two years.

"Currently there is a mismatch in demand – we have vacant properties in areas of low demand and a shortage of supply in areas of high demand but let's be clear: we are not taking homes from under people. If the houses are needed, they are not sold," the statement said.

"Housing NZ reinvests the proceeds of sales to build new homes in areas of high demand like Auckland."

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the Government was leaving hundreds of state houses lying empty while families were living in cars and campgrounds.

"It's incompetent and callous to allow so many state houses to lie empty when there are so many families desperate for a roof over their heads."

WHAT THEY SAID:

* Mana MP Kris Faafoi: "It isn't acceptable. There's been so many missed opportunities for local homes. We hear the message that they need different sizes, but [the number of houses] isn't going up."

* Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett: "We know there are [several] families wanting to rent and there's a significant number of vacancies and I want clarity. What is their plan for existing and new stock in Porirua, where the need is absolutely significant?"

* Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson described the 136 empty homes in Wellington as "unacceptable". There were "clearly problems with the management of the stock of houses if so many are under repair".

* Rongotai MP Annette King said there was "an ignorance of housing needs in Wellington". The council needed to form a partnership with central government similar to the housing initiative struck by the previous Labour government.

* Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the city was "familiar with the challenge of providing housing up to modern standards". The Government's state housing shakeup forced "councils and community providers to be innovative in how we respond to needs".

* Lower Hutt Mayor Ray Wallace said there was a big demand in the Hutt Valley for warm, dry and affordable rental accommodation. Much of the Housing NZ stock was old and he said his council was keen to work with Housing NZ.

* Lower Hutt-based National list MP Chris Bishop said he was regularly challenged by the community, who were naturally concerned at the sight of so many empty sections. Housing NZ was rethinking its plans for Lower Hutt and was no longer intending to sell its empty Epuni land.

* Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard said the news that Housing NZ was again looking at its options was good. He believed the Government had to take a stronger hand and direct Housing NZ to make better use of its land.

* Kapiti Mayor Ross Church: "We're fortunate there's not big numbers and it's not a significant issue for us here in Kapiti, and it's something we should be grateful for."

* Horowhenua Mayor Brendan Duffy said that social housing numbers in Horowhenua seemed about right, but some of the houses might need alteration to match up with family sizes.

* Otaki MP Nathan Guy said a condition of selling state homes was that they went to a community housing provider and must remain as social housing. He said of the 16 empty houses across his electorate, five were being repaired and four were meth contaminated. "That leaves only seven vacant, a fraction of the nearly 400 Housing NZ homes in the region."

BY THE NUMBERS:
Hastings: 1207 state houses, 38 empty: 13 under repair, 10 meth contaminated, 1 ready to let, 13 pending sale.
Horowhenua: 179 state houses, 8 empty: 1 under repair, 2 meth contaminated, 1 ready to let, 3 pending sale.
Kapiti Coast: 213 state houses, 8 empty: 3 under repair, 2 meth contaminated, 0 ready to let, 3 pending sale.
Lower Hutt: 3429 state houses, 184 empty: 49 under repair, 23 meth contaminated, 13 ready to let, 17 pending sale.
Napier: 1430 state house, 59 empty: 6 under repair, 28 meth contaminated, 1 ready to let, 2 pending sale.
Porirua: 2661 state houses, 126 empty: 33 under repair, 15 meth contaminated, 2 ready to let, 40 pending sale.
Upper Hutt: 406 state houses, 24 empty: 4 under repair, 1 meth contaminated, 2 ready to let, 11 pending sale.
Wellington: 1874 state houses, 136 empty: 17 under repair, 14 meth contaminated, 1 ready to let, 26 pending sale.

 - Stuff

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