The government maintains it will remain the dominant provider of social housing under its new policy, but opponents say a failure to build new state houses will disadvantage at-risk tenants.
The government's approach to social housing will see more private social housing providers take on vulnerable tenants, as the government sells off a yet-to-be-determined number of state houses.
Yesterday Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said "thousands" of state houses could be sold under the government's new approach to social housing.
She denied it was an asset sale but later said "this is not a big asset sale," on TV3's The Nation.
Bennett said this morning the government would remain the "dominant" provider of housing under the new housing policy, which was essentially a voucher scheme.
People living in state houses would pay rent based on their income, with a subsidy given to cover costs.
The government wanted to "open it up" so that community housing providers such as churches and iwi would have access to the income related rent subsidies, Bennett said on TVNZ's Q+A programme.
Freeing up land and selling some state houses would allow for better developments on the land that was there, Bennett said.
But Labour acting deputy leader Annette King said selling state houses while not making a commitment to provide that many and more meant those who were on Housing New Zealand's waiting list would miss out.
"I think what you'll see is a big sell off but you won't see the corresponding provision of houses," King said.
"They never did it in the past, they sold off houses during the nine years they were in government last time - 13,000 - and they didn't replace them."
Unless there was an increased provision in houses for people who were desperate, more people would be living in caravans, garages, and cars, King said.
"The government just has not grasped the seriousness of the housing situation - affordability, and rental provision for the most vulnerable."
Social housing providers such as The Salvation Army did not have a billion dollars to spend on buying a few hundred state houses, King said.
"They haven't got that money, and she's not saying they're going to get them at a discounted price."
Bennett would not rule out discounting state houses when selling them to social housing providers, and would not commit to money from the sales going back into state housing.
King was highly critical of the lack of detail in the government's policy.
"Treasury has been working on this for four years, to say they've haven't got any real numbers or plans yet is being disingenuous."
King said the government had decided on the number of state houses they would sell in a move she called an asset sale, but were not prepared to divulge it yet.
The prime minister's denial of the sale of state houses being an asset sale was "pretty sneaky, because he knows selling off that many state houses without building as many or more is just killing an asset."
Prime Minister John Key said selling Housing New Zealand or part of it would amount to an asset sale, but the government did not intend to do that, and the sale of state houses was not new.
"The government has sold state houses over the course of the last six years, in fact Housing New Zealand has sold houses prior to that, we have 69,000 state houses and quite a lot of them are in the wrong places."
No decision had been made on how many state houses could or could not be sold, Key said.
"But what I would say is that the government is keen to build the overall stock of housing available to vulnerable and at-risk New Zealanders.
The issue was one of access to housing for vulnerable and at-risk New Zealanders who needed a home, Key said.
"Whether ultimately we pay income related rents to a community housing provider and that's their way into an affordable home, or whether the government builds a state house will be of no probably interest or consequence to the person who is in that home."
An announcement is expected soon on how many people the government expects to house by this time next year.
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