'Dumping ground' fears over paying state house applicants to leave Auckland

Prospective state housing tenants could get thousands of dollars, plus a house, if they leave Auckland.
JOHN HAWKINS/FAIRFAX NZ

Prospective state housing tenants could get thousands of dollars, plus a house, if they leave Auckland.

Mayors outside Auckland are worried their regions could become a "dumping ground" for Auckland's state housing residents.

Plans to offer state housing applicants cash to move from Auckland to the regions have been described as a "stop-gap solution" that won't help the city's housing shortfall.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said the Government was considering paying thousands of dollars to those on Auckland's state housing waitlist if they agreed to move to other parts of the country where more houses were available.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says prospective tenants need to be more flexible about where they can live.
CHRIS SKELTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett says prospective tenants need to be more flexible about where they can live.

Bennett said the proposal would help to ease pressure for social housing in Auckland, while also assisting regions with empty state houses, and those that were in need of workers.

"We have places in New Zealand where this is employment, there certainly [are] empty state houses, and I think we should be opening out opportunities for people in Auckland to look outside...to different regions where there might be opportunities for them."

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She named Lower Hutt, Porirua, Wanganui, Gisborne and New Plymouth as potential relocation areas, after earlier singling out Oamaru and Ashburton in the South Island.

There were more than 2300 people on Auckland's state housing waitlist, some of whom had to wait up to six months for a home, so a solution was needed, Bennett said.

"If people have got social services around them, their children safe and secure and they're embedded in school, it's probably not one for them, but there'll be others really struggling and think moving closer to extended family or a smaller town with a stronger sense of community, may see a real option."

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Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford described the plans as "yet more low-level tinkering" which would not address underlying issues with a shortage of houses.

"It's not a bad idea in itself, maybe there's a small number of people this would suit, but it won't even scratch the surface of Auckland's housing shortage."

New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services executive officer Trevor McGlinchey said Bennett's proposal had "potential", but the Government would need to ensure those who took up the offer had help to find work and build new social networks in their new town.

"If there are people who feel that they can move further, that's quite appropriate, so long as they are not just dumped but actually properly supported into that community and not left isolated and alone."

McGlinchey said the proposal was unlikely to have a significant impact on the social housing problems facing Auckland.

"It's a short-term, stop-gap kind of measure that may free up a few houses, and it's not the kind of answer to the social housing development that we need to make a real difference."

Former Green Party MP and Auckland Action Against Poverty spokeswoman Sue Bradford slammed Bennett's proposal, calling it "both incoherent and racist".

"With all the efforts of Work and Income focused on getting the same cohort of people into paid jobs, she now wants them to move to regions where there are unlikely to be a plethora of work opportunities."

Bradford said the proposal looked like "a deliberate strategy to push poor, brown people out of the country's economic powerhouse".

'NOT A DUMPING GROUND'

Mayors from the regions named by Bennett as potential relocation sites had a mixed response to the plans.

Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher said while he was keen for people to move there to work, he was wary of the government transferring a problem from one place to another.

"We're more than happy for people to come down here, but our big concern is that none of us want to be seen as a dumping ground."

Kircher said the district would welcome people who were moving there to contribute economically and socially.

"The reality is that we're a growing population and we want to make sure we can grow in a sustainable way.

"We don't want the government transferring a problem in terms of the social welfare side of things."

Ashburton District Mayor Angus Mackay was confident there would be jobs available for those who were considering a move, and was not concerned about the potential impact on social welfare agencies.

"We have good community and church programmes that can cater for that need if it arises."

VOLUNTARY SCHEME

Bennett said the proposal was not a substitute for building more state houses, with 2000 more houses already "in the pipeline" over the next four years.

She also denied the plan was a reflection of any failures with the Government's plan to sell off some of its housing stock, saying proposals to sell off houses in Tauranga and Invercargill were going well.

The size of the payments had not been decided, although there were likely to be close to $3000 - the same amount the government paid to beneficiaries who moved to Christchurch and took up full-time work after the city's earthquakes.

The scheme would be voluntary, with no penalties for those who did not want to leave Auckland.

Bennett last year announced the Government was looking at a stand-down period for those who rejected state houses without good reason.

She said more than 400 people had turned down properties for unacceptable reasons, such as "birds chirping in the trees next door, wanting a bigger backyard for a trampoline, and not liking the colour a door was painted" - a claim that was later attacked by opposition politicians as "caricaturing" state housing tenants.

 - Stuff

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