No 'astronomical' rent rises in Chch - Brownlee

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 07:53 18/06/2012

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Christchurch residents have not been hit with ''astronomical rent rises'', Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says.

Despite anecdotal reports of rent rises in the city climbing to $100 a week and welfare agencies saying the market has pushed some families below the poverty line, Brownlee has discarded a potential affordable-housing solution and continues to downplay the problem.

''My view is that we are in a reasonable position. We have to consider everything we do here in Christchurch in relation to the rest of the country, and it would be very hard to make a case that there's been astronomical rent rises here,'' he said.

The Press has reported on families being forced to stay in overcrowded houses with relatives, to live in caravans, garages and cars and to regularly eat baked beans on toast for dinner after being hit with significant rent rises.

Three-bedroom houses citywide are going for up to $40 more than a year ago, but the national average was up only $10, the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand's monthly report shows.

''Rents have risen in Christchurch but if you compare them to the rest of the country, it's hard to say we are massively out of kilter,'' Brownlee said.

Last week, a Christchurch businesswoman's ''immediate solution'' to the housing shortage was featured in The Press.

Sue Robinson coined a subsidised-housing proposal and delivered it to several Cabinet ministers, including Brownlee.

Her ambitious idea was to headlease properties in the city, rent them out at ''pre-quake affordable levels'' and meet the difference in price with the Canterbury Affordable Housing Trust.

She said the plan would immediately offer a solution for the new ''working poor'' and asked for Government funding to kickstart the initiative.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said it was a ''sustainable solution'' and she met Robinson to discuss it further last week.

''For the first time, I've seen somebody putting up a potential community-oriented solution which requires Government backing but doesn't require the Government to do,'' she said.

Brownlee said the answer to the housing shortage was increasing stock, not funding trusts.

''You can't magic up a solution through some sort of trust structure or a clever rental idea. You have to have an increased pool; you have to have more houses,'' he said.

More than 100 Housing New Zealand (HNZ) homes would be back in commission by mid-July, another temporary village was on the way and the Earthquake Commission had just settled $23 million with the Christchurch City Council to repair its 282 damaged social housing units, he said.

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''All the trusts in the world won't make a lot of difference unless we increase the pool available, and that's where our efforts are directed,'' he said.

Dalziel said Brownlee was being ''wilfully blind'' to the housing shortage and questioned how an increase in HNZ stock would support families that were not eligible for its assistance.

''If he thinks all the problems are from those eligible for HNZ, then he is dreaming,'' she said.

- The Press

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