Brownlee slams council 'inaction' on housing

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee has attacked the Christchurch City Council for its failure to fix quake-damaged social housing units in the city despite a multimillion-dollar payout from the Earthquake Commission (EQC).

The council - the second-biggest landlord in the country - received a $21 million interim payout from the commission last April so it could begin repairing damage to its housing units. But so far it has repaired only five units.

Housing New Zealand has repaired 230 of its hardest-hit properties.

Brownlee said yesterday that he was mystified at how the council could have achieved so little with the $21m.

"They gave me an assurance they were on to it and it was going to be a priority for the staff to deliver. Clearly it isn't," he said.

"What concerns me is that they are very willing to be critical of the State around housing issues, but when they have an opportunity themselves they don't want to take it.

"I'm not in the business of throwing stones but I do think it is a little bit off that they end up sitting on their backsides for nine months."

His comments follow the council's announcement this week that it is closing another 31 housing units because of concerns about their structural strength.

The closure of the units in the Knightsbridge Lane, Louisson Courts and Avonheath Courts complexes brings the number of council housing units out of action because of quake damage to about 470.

It is likely more units will close as the council completes its detailed engineering evaluations.

Mayor Bob Parker said yesterday the council was doing its best for tenants and ratepayers.

"On the basis of a quick and shallow analysis, it does not look like much has happened, but I'm afraid the reality is quite different to that," he said.

The priority for the council had been to ensure the safety of its tenants, so it had concentrated its efforts on assessing the safety of its 2649 units and finding alternative accommodation for displaced tenants.

He said it was now working on getting as many of the damaged units as possible back into operation and looking at options for building new housing stock to replace the lost units.

Many of the damaged units were in complexes that were not worth repairing because of their age and condition, so rather than spend money repairing them, the council was looking at building new units.

"There is no point repairing something that is old and cold. We have to accelerate our rebuild programme and that, of course, is a much bigger job," Parker said.

Council community services general manager Michael Aitken said that before the council could begin repair work on damaged units it had to reach agreement with its insurers and the EQC on the scope of works.

It faced the same obstacles to getting repairs done as homeowners but it was operating on a much larger scale.

Extra resources had been diverted to the repair programme late last year and the council was expecting "an accelerated fix" in 2013, he said.

The Press