Disability no guarantee of state house
A tetraplegic woman is waiting anxiously to hear whether Housing New Zealand can evict her from her state house.
The corporation claims Roberta Mahara, 38, has been living with an undeclared partner while claiming government benefits.
Now the corporation plans to evict the Takanini woman for being $5000 behind on rent.
It has asked the Tenancy Tribunal to rule on whether it can legally evict her.
And it says having a serious disability is no guarantee of a state house.
Mahara is expected to meet community leaders this morning in a bid to get her situation resolved.
The mother-of-four is bedridden after she was partially paralysed when she broke her neck in a car accident in 2006.
She went on a sickness benefit and moved into a state house in Takanini which had been modified for wheelchair access.
She's unable to perform simple tasks for herself, with ACC paying for her 24-hour care. She also suffers from anxiety and severe migraines.
She's now headed for court on a variety of charges.
Housing NZ has charged her with receiving more than $250,000 worth of subsidies she wasn't entitled to from both it and Work and Income.
Investigators believe her former partner, Keith Newton, has been living with her for the past seven years while she has declared each year that she was living alone.
But Mahara says the investigators have misunderstood the nature of her relationship with Newton.
She needs 24-hour care which can be hard to find and Newton sometimes steps in as a temporary carer.
They have had an on-again off-again relationship and have four children, including a 3-year-old, but they are not living together, she says.
And she says no one has met with her to ask what was happening.
''I've never met with any investigators. They're outsiders looking in but they don't know me.''
The corporation has also said she ''failed or refused'' to meet with investigators to discuss the case.
Mahara says that's because her disability prevented her from getting to the meetings.
Evicting Mahara is the ''absolute last resort'', HNZ's tenancy services general manager Kay Read said.
''We are very familiar with Ms Mahara's circumstances and have been working with her for a considerable period of time to come to a solution other than this,'' she says.
''We do not tolerate fraud and thoroughly investigate cases where we suspect someone has not fully presented the truth in documentation provided to obtain a state house or subsidised rent they would not otherwise be entitled to. This includes cases where someone deliberately disguises relationships.''
A letter to Mahara from HNZ investigations manager Bernard Hollewand said there was ''no automatic link between disability and social housing entitlement''.
''I note that you have a serious disability. However, many people with disabilities are able to manage very well within their own means,'' he said.
Mahara lost her benefit last year when the allegations of living with an undeclared partner came to light.
HNZ raised her rent from $72 a week to market rent of $480 because she was no longer a beneficiary.
Without an income she rapidly fell behind on her rent and HNZ began eviction proceedings.
Mahara was more than $5000 in arrears by the time her benefit was reinstated and she's now paying that off at $20 per week.
A support letter written by Mahara's social worker Sandie Turei said her client was a victim of bad advice and poor communication between government agencies and had not received the support she needs.
''It would be a discredit to [Housing NZ] to evict this paraplegic victim along with her 16-year-old daughter, leaving them homeless,'' the Papakura Marae employee said.
The Tenancy Tribunal had yet to make a decision on the case but a bailiff came to the house last week and told Mahara she had to be out of the property by last Thursday at 1pm.
Housing New Zealand has since apologised for the timing of that visit but said Mahara would have been ''fully aware'' it was coming.