State house for life no longer

22:20, Nov 19 2013

All state house tenants will now be subject to reviewable tenancies following the passage of a controversial new bill under urgency today.

The Government's Social Housing Reform Bill will also increase the role of the private providers in the social housing sector and see needs assessments shifted from Housing New Zealand to Work and Income.

Housing Minister Dr Nick Smith welcomed the passage of the bill which Labour has slammed as punitive and unfair.

"High needs families want a warm, dry, safe home available at an affordable rent and don't care who owns the bricks and mortar," he said.

The reforms enabled approved social housing providers to receive the same rent subsidy as Housing New Zealand and allow tenants to pay a discounted income related rent, he said.

Community housing providers could stretch their budgets further, provide complementary support services and maintained their houses better, he said.

The reviewable tenancies would remove the right of state house tenants to remain in those homes for life, he said.

Smith pointed to a Nelson fishing boat captain who he said once had high need but who was now earning more than $100,000 and still living in a state home but whose tenancy could not been reviewed under the old legislation.

"A person living in a state house earning over $100,000 a year has a right, a legal right to stay in that house forever while there are families with high needs."

There were currently 4000 tenants in state homes who could afford to pay market rent but who were legally entitled to stay at the expense of families in need, he said.

Reviewable tenancies were expected to cost the Government $46.8 million over two years as the Government moves 3000 people out of state houses by 2016/2017.

The bill also transfers the eligibility assessments from Housing New Zealand to Work and Income meaning that potential tenants would only have to deal with one government department.

Labour's Housing spokesman Phil Twyford accused Smith of hypocrisy by pointing out he had remained in his ministerial home for six weeks after being sacked as a minister, saying Smith had claimed he did not want to move as it would disrupt his childrens' schooling.

"That is an outrageous double standard," he said.

Twyford said families would suffer as a result of the reviewable tenancies.

Forcibly evicting people had negative social consequences, including threatening the emotional support provided by neighbours and decreasing access to healthcare.

"Supportive stable communities help mitigate socio-economic disadvantage by providing all kinds of resources that people get from being part of a stable community," he said.

Labour supported shifting some of the housing stock to community providers but said it should be part of an increase in the total amount of social housing rather than just shifting the existing stock around.

A contestable market for social housing funds was "lunacy", he said.

National was squeezing state houses in a time of great need, he said.