Big housing reforms begin

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 08:19 14/04/2014

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Social housing reforms start today, that for the first time will see tenants receive government subsidies for rent in private rental properties.

Until today, the government subsidy applied only to those living in Housing New Zealand properties.

The Government has also removed the responsibility for Housing New Zealand to determine which applications for social housing were approved, and handed the assessment process to the Ministry for Social Development.

The move is part of wider government reforms to make housing more available for those in need.

Housing New Zealand waiting lists have ballooned to more than 5000 people - almost 1200 of them living in West Auckland.

The Government has set a target for 20 per cent of the country's social housing to be provided by non-government organisations by 2017. At present there are about 1200 but Housing Minister Nick Smith wants that to rise to 12,000.

Under the reforms, Housing New Zealand will remain the property manager for social houses, retaining rent and debt-collection responsibilities, as well as landlord duties and property maintenance.

The Ministry of Social Development will be responsible for applications including the screening of potential tenants, managing the Housing New Zealand waiting list and calculating and reviewing income-related rent.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the reforms would make it easier for people to navigate the process.

"From [today] the Ministry of Social Development's [MSD] work and income and seniors services will do more comprehensive assessments of people's social needs, with housing included alongside employment, income and other social services," she said.

That meant some people would be "encouraged" to move from their houses, if they were in one deemed unsuitable for their needs.

"MSD will carry out reviewable tenancies from 1 July 2014 of approximately 800 state-house tenancies in the first year, that are paying market rent or close to it," she said.

"Those who can move out and move on will be encouraged and supported to do so."

Bennett said that was not the same as an eviction.

"Each review will be done with careful consideration and take into account each person's circumstances and living standards," the minister said.

"It is all about the right home, for the right household, for the right time."

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