Bennett not backing down in fight

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2012
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett
NATASHA MARTIN/Fairfax NZ
PAULA BENNETT: Children want life to be easier for their families.

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Allegations are continuing to fly between Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and a West Auckland caravan park owner accused of forcing unfair rents on "vulnerable" tenants.

Yesterday, Mrs Bennett added further criticism of Western Park Village, prompting another angry response from owner Darryll Heaven.

The minister, who is also the local MP, said: "All I can say is what I've seen and what people have told me. I've had a lot of contact with people that live there both temporarily and permanently and I have visited the caravan park myself. All I can say is that for very, very small accommodation, he is charging over $300 a week."

Mr Heaven has rubbished claims he charges unfair rent and challenged Mrs Bennett to visit the caravan park to see how difficult his job was. He had never seen her there and staff had told him she had only visited before the election to hand out pamphlets about herself.

But Mrs Bennett insisted she had visited constituents at the park many times.

"I have heard - I obviously haven't got evidence of it - but I have heard he fines residents $50 if they're caught swearing or hanging their washing where he doesn't think it should be hung and he takes it off their bond," she said.

"It just seems - to those that are suffering and perhaps at that very vulnerable end - very unfair."

Several organisations were working in the area to help people with lots of different issues, she said. There were about 137 people living at the park who were paying rent through the accommodation supplement.

The Government would not "at this stage" use the supplement "as a tool" to change quality.

Monte Cecilia Housing Trust executive David Zussman said the standard of accommodation at the park and the rent were issues.

"But by pointing the finger and making it an issue about one private owner - they're all valid issues - but it takes away from what the real problem is.

"Why are those people finding that they have to go to a place like this?" Mr Zussman said.

"A caravan park is meant to be a place for people to go on holiday, but people are going there because there is literally nowhere else to live."

The accommodation supplement should be linked to minimum standards, he said.

Property Investors' Federation president Andrew King said only a "really small minority" of landlords charged unfair rents for substandard housing and it made no difference if a tenant was on the accommodation supplement or not.

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"The biggest thing for some tenants is the amount of the rent and not the quality of the property," he said.

"They're willing to put up with small bedrooms and possibly rough conditions - rough carpet, rough curtains, in a slightly rough area without some of the facilities that other houses have - because it's cheaper."

Mr Heaven said Mrs Bennett's claim he fined tenants for swearing or hanging clothes in the wrong place was "out of line".

"If we have to split a domestic up, and put him or her into somewhere else, we charge $50 for that service.

"They're supposed to pay it but they've never got any money," Mr Heaven said.

- Fairfax Media

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