Fears elderly will suffer from review

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2013

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Elderly and disabled state house residents will be subjected to tenancy reviews under proposed social housing legislation, despite concerns about the impacts on their health.

The Government says it would be irresponsible to exclude them from its plans as there are thousands of rooms in state houses lying empty while large families are crammed into smaller homes.

The Social Housing Reform Bill, which will extend Housing New Zealand subsidies to groups such as iwi and churches to provide social housing, was reported back to Parliament yesterday. It was strongly criticised by Labour and the Greens.

The bill would allow social housing providers to charge new tenants rent equivalent to no more than 25 per cent of their income, with the Government making up the rest while it also allows for reviewing of state and social house tenancies.

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the reviews would see the elderly and disabled removed from their homes, despite assurances they would not be.

"This move will create needless stress, anxiety and suffering for older New Zealanders, the disabled and the most vulnerable who least deserve such treatment, and are least able to cope with it."

There was no evidence the Government had considered the likely health and social impacts created by the upheaval, he said.

In its submission on the bill the Green Party said the policy was likely to result in "extremely adverse outcomes for many tenants".

Housing Minister Nick Smith said all tenancies needed to be reviewed to ensure state houses were being utilised properly, though the Government would have the power to grant exemptions.

More than 4000 state house tenants were paying market rents, some of whom were on high incomes, and the policy was expected to free up 3000 houses over the next two years.

"Reviewable tenancies will be undertaken with common sense and care. Tenants will be given support to move into alternative housing where available and they are in a position to take that step to independence."

The Government has also acceded to the wishes of councils such as Wellington City, which provide social housing but which were originally excluded from the government subsidies.

The council had argued this discriminated against its tenants.

Wellington City Council policy manager Andrew Stitt said it was now eligible for funding as a social housing provider, responsible for almost 4000 social housing units.

"So that gives us the flexibility, I guess, if we wanted to be included to make our case to the regulator that we're meeting the Government's objective . . ."

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The council already had a contract with the Government to provide social housing and there were some areas it would need to work through, such as governance issues, to ensure it was eligible.

It also needed to look at how to accommodate those people kicked out of social housing programmes, such as helping them into affordable houses or through rent-to-buy schemes such as those mooted by mayor Celia Wade-Brown, he said.

"Because what we don't want them to do is recycle back into the pool and have to be housed by either the council or by the state because they've fallen on hard times."

- Fairfax Media

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