Govt plans to ditch Housing NZ properties

ROB STOCK
Last updated 05:00 12/05/2013

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UP to 12,000 state houses could be transferred to community groups and charities under a plan outlined by Housing Minister Nick Smith today.

Smith's ambition is to see Housing NZ scaled back to provide far less a share of what he called "social housing".

At the moment HNZ provides 94 per cent of social housing, and Smith wants that to be no more than 80 per cent, a model used in Australia and Britain.

Smith outlined his ambitions exclusively to Sunday Star-Times after state housing activist Sue Henry accused him of telling a National Party electorate meeting earlier this month that "the state should not be in the business of providing housing".

Henry, a card-carrying National Party member, confronted Smith on the night about the statement, which Smith has not denied he made.

She believes the Government has a radical plan to transfer state houses to community groups and charities, paving the way for funding cuts and to eventually sell off much of the land under state houses to what she calls "National's developer mates".

Smith denied his desire was to save money. Rather, he wished to increase the amount of social housing provided by community organisations, he said.

Figures provided by Smith's office showed there were around 69,000 state houses, 11,000 council units and 5000 units owned by non-government community providers, some 85,000 all up.

If the share of local councils did not change, then to lift community housing's share to 20 per cent implied around 12,000 properties currently owned by HNZ would be shifted to community groups and charities, including iwi groups, which Smith believes can do a better job of housing the needy than his department.

"I was talking about wanting to shift from a state housing model to a social housing model," Smith said of his initial comments.

"Many community organisations with funding support are able to provide a better service for people needing housing support. New Zealand is behind the pace internationally. Europe, North America and Australia have far larger community housing sectors."

Community groups and charities could provide more than just a house for people, he said, citing the Salvation Army's work with alcoholics and substance abusers, or other agencies who work with the intellectually disabled and the mentally unwell.

Smith said community housing providers had a better track record in moving people back into the private housing sector more rapidly.

Henry feared corruption and nepotism would thrive in the community housing model Smith is championing, something the minister does not accept.

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"I don't think there is any evidence that social housing organisations, as compared to Housing New Zealand, have less or more problems with inappropriate financial management or unfair allocation of housing," he said.

There has been much speculation about the Government's plans for HNZ, following the release in January of the heavily censored briefing to Smith from HNZ.

Despite a recent advertising campaign to attract private landlords to lease their properties to HNZ, the agency has denied it is trying to lift the proportion of properties it leases rather than owns - a form of creeping privatisation.

Where private enterprise is expected to gain is in the freeing up of land for development, with HNZ having embarked on a plan to intensify HNZ properties, replacing small weatherboard state housing on large sections with denser multi-unit buildings, freeing up land to be used to develop homes for the private market.

That's sparked anger in areas like Auckland's Glen Innes, where residents are convinced they are being removed to clear the way for developers.

Glen Innes also shows how the transfer of resources to community groups could be achieved, with some properties to be redeveloped having been earmarked for transfer to community organisations.

- Sunday Star Times

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