State housing scare groundless, Smith

BILL MOORE
Last updated 12:58 13/05/2014

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Housing minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith says an attack by Maryan Street on the Government's state housing policy is just desperate Opposition scaremongering.

With the election four months away list MP Street, who has the goal of winning the Nelson party vote back for Labour, is ramping up her campaign.

Yesterday she issued a statement saying that Housing New Zealand had released 10-year demand projections revealing it intended to cut 186 state houses in Nelson, reducing the stock by 31 per cent. Tasman would lose 48 houses, a drop of 28 per cent, she said.

This "massive cut" would force people in real need into the private rental market, where they would pay higher rents with less security of tenure.

Just last year she had had to "embarrass" Housing NZ into finding a house for a solo mother with three children who was living in a garage.

"It is not as if there are no poor people needing a decent roof over their heads in Nelson."

Street said the Government had tightened the rules so that even very poor people could not get on the waiting list.

"The result is that in almost every provincial town and city there are state houses lying empty while needy people are forced into often substandard and overcrowded private rental housing.

"For many on low wages, renting a Housing NZ house is their best option," she said. "We have the minister of housing resident in Nelson, but he seems not to know what is going on down the long driveways and amongst the rental properties on his doorstep. People cannot afford to rent in Nelson, let alone buy a house."

Her figures, obtained from a Housing NZ demand model through a Labour request under the Official Information Act, show Nelson city dropping from 606 to 420 state houses over the next 10 years, and Tasman district reducing from 169 to 121.

But Smith said the figures were "no more than a statistician estimating for instance what the population of different areas might be in 10 or 20 years" and had not been approved by the Housing NZ board.

"They've not been to me as minister, they've not been to Cabinet."

He said the number of state houses had declined under the last Labour government for exactly the same reasons as now.

"Demand for state housing in areas like Auckland is high, and there are a significant number of vacant state houses in places like Gisborne, Invercargill and Hastings.

"How it makes sense to retain empty state houses while at the same time you've got severe overcrowding in areas like Auckland, makes no sense."

National had committed $3 billion to state housing over three years, with Labour spending $600 million in its "greatest year".

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"We have put a greater focus on not just the number of houses, but actually making sure they are of better quality - that's why we've insulated every house that can be, 40,000 of the state housing stock of 69,000."

Smith said there were 572 state houses in Nelson, with 14 vacant, and a waiting list of 42. One house had been sold in the last five years.

"Housing NZ reviews its stock each year and is continuously both selling and buying properties to make sure they are in the right place. We have no long-term plan to divest out of areas like Nelson in the way that's claimed," he said.

"The claim that we've got plans to have 186 fewer homes is simply wrong. It is scaremongering by a desperate Opposition who want to create fear in the minds of Housing NZ tenants."

- The Nelson Mail

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