Axing homes will 'bleed' regions

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 11/05/2014

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The Government is to slash the number of state homes it owns in regional New Zealand, Labour says, in a move it describes as a "further bleeding of the regions" in favour of Auckland.

Labour says that Housing New Zealand's 10-year State Housing Demand Model, provided under the Official Information Act, shows that the numbers of state houses available in regional New Zealand will plummet by as much as 70 per cent in some areas by 2024.

The figures did not include leased properties and those provided by the social housing sector which the Government is focused on growing. Labour's housing spokesman Phil Twyford said combined with the tightening of eligibility criteria for state house tenants, this will drive more struggling families into substandard housing.

"It is not as if provincial New Zealand doesn't need state housing," he said.

"Regional cities like Palmerston North, Napier, Dunedin, etc, have plenty of people struggling to find a decent roof over their heads but Housing New Zealand has made eligibility criteria so tight, people cannot even get on the waiting list and are forced into the private rental market, often into overcrowded and substandard housing." Some areas will see a major boost.

The figures show the number of homes owned by Housing New Zealand would increase by more than 2800 in Auckland, a jump of 10 per cent, by 446 in Porirua and by 318 and 192 in Tauranga and Whakatane District respectively.

But there would be 509 fewer homes in Christchurch, a drop of 9 per cent, 476 fewer in Dunedin, and a loss of more than 500 each in Napier and Palmerston North.

A total of 26 territorial authorities would see drops of more than 20 per cent.

Regional New Zealand was already being hammered by rising interest rates and low deposit lending restrictions which were the result of the failure to address the housing crisis in Auckland, Twyford said.

Housing New Zealand spokeswoman Bryony Hilless said the demand forecasting analysis carried out in 2012 focused only on state housing - not broader social housing. "It is just one of several factors that Housing New Zealand has used to inform its Asset Management Strategy."

Hilless said Housing New Zealand needed fewer three-bedroom homes and more two and four-bedroom-plus homes, in high demand areas.

"Housing New Zealand does not need as many properties in smaller centres where there is less demand.

"That's why we are looking to sell surplus properties through programmes like our FirstHome initiative, and through selling state homes in the wider market."

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Proceeds from property sales were reinvested into the portfolio while Housing New Zealand also leased some homes.

She could not say whether the changes would mean a smaller proportion of New Zealanders would receive housing assistance or if there would be a reduction in the overall availability of housing assistance over time.

Assessments for prospective tenants were now the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Development, though the responsibilities were transferred three weeks ago.

A spokeswoman for Housing Minister Nick Smith declined to comment but the Government is also expanding the role of social housing providers, extending income-related subsidies to private providers.

- Sunday Star Times

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