City urged to sell off social housing

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 19/07/2014

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The Christchurch City Council should follow Auckland's lead and sell its social housing stock to the Government, the Canterbury Property Investors Association says.

Vice-president Claire Wilson said the council had "too much on its plate" after the earthquakes and during the rebuild.

"It cannot afford to be a social housing provider . . . let someone else manage the housing stock," she said.

Wilson was one of about 20 people who yesterday addressed a council hearings panel set up to consider public submissions on the proposed restructuring of the council's social housing portfolio.

The council is the second-biggest landlord in the country, with about 2600 social housing units, but it is struggling to generate enough money from rents to maintain and upgrade them.

No rates money goes towards maintaining the social housing stock.

Deputy Mayor Vicki Buck is pushing for the council to set up a limited-liability company to help drive the provision of affordable housing in Christchurch.

She wants the council to transfer the ownership or control of some of its social housing portfolio to the new company, in which it is proposed the council would have a 49 per cent stake.

The council would then be eligible for registration as a community housing provider, meaning it could access the income-related rent subsidies offered by the Government, bringing it extra revenue.

Buck's proposal has the backing of council staff, who have analysed 20 options for restructuring the social housing portfolio to make it more financially sustainable and have concluded it is the best, but the council has been waiting to hear what the public has to say before deciding the path to take.

In its submission, the Independent Property Managers' Association also argued the council should sell its housing stock to the Government, but health and community advocates believe it would be a mistake for the council to end the involvement it has had in social housing since 1938.

Jenny Smith, of Te Whare Roimata Trust, said it was vital the council continued to provide housing for the city's most vulnerable residents.

"We urge you to retain the vital leadership role you have historically filled . . . and firmly encourage you to retain ownership of this resource. Once sold, you won't get it back," she said.

The Canterbury District Health Board said the open market struggled to provide affordable and safe housing to the most disadvantaged and it fully supported the council staying involved in the social housing area.

Anni Watkin, of the Youth and Cultural Development Society, said the council had an obligation to reduce homelessness by providing social housing and keeping rents down. It needed to hold on to its housing assets and consider ring-fencing some of them for young people.

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"We would really like to see a commitment to youth housing," said Watkins, who told councillors a "distressing number" of young people were sleeping rough in Christchurch.

The hearings panel will consider more submissions next week.

- The Press

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