Pensioners fight plan to sell their homes

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 29/08/2014

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Hamilton's senior citizens are vowing to fight any move to sell off the city's pensioner housing stock.

More than 100 older residents watched yesterday as councillors voted nine to three to adopt a proposal which recommended the council sell off its entire pensioner housing stock.

Councillors Martin Gallagher, Philip Yeung and Ewan Wilson voted against the motion.

The proposal would see the council's 17 pensioner complexes offered for sale to social housing providers first.

Any remaining property would then be sold on the open market.

Council staff will now prepare a statement of proposal on the recommended selloff, with public consultation timed for October.

Submissions will be heard in November with a decision expected later that month.

Yesterday's meeting was shifted to The Link Community Centre in Te Aroha St as part of a council initiative to take democracy to the community.

But the move backfired as onlookers, sitting at the back of the room, repeatedly complained they couldn't hear and demanded councillors speak more loudly.

Audrey Durose, speaking on behalf of the council's 19 Bankwood Rd tenants, said councillors should consider the interests of older residents.

"In the last five or six years, approximately 90 pensioner units have been lost, due to this council's ongoing sales on the open market," Durose said.

"Mayor [Julie] Hardaker has invited us to join in Hamilton's 150 years celebrations. What exactly have our elderly tenants got to celebrate? Certainly not the prospect of being uprooted yet again."

In March the council set up a working group tasked with exploring the council's long-term role in social housing.

The working group recommended the council's entire pensioner housing stock be put up for sale.

Durose said the working group "was nothing but a smoke screen" to cover the real agenda of a majority of councillors.

Hamilton Grey Power president Roger Hennebry said following the council's sale of three pensioner housing blocks in 2012 it had assured elderly tenants their units would be safe from sale.

"If you're doing this on a business footing, surely you'd look to sell Waikato Stadium and the Claudelands Event Centre and Innovation Park which are being propped up by tens of millions of dollars every year," he said.

In reply, Hardaker said the social housing landscape had changed "massively" since 2012.

The Government had provided access to government capital funding and income-related rent subsidies to accredited housing providers while shutting out councils.

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Gallagher, a member of the working group, opposed selling the council's pensioner housing portfolio and urged his colleagues to pause for reflection.

A wholesale selloff risked leaving elderly residents in the lurch and was premature, Gallagher said.

Yeung, another member of the working group, also opposed the group's recommendation.

He said a proposed six-month time frame to allow sympathetic social housing providers to purchase the complexes was insufficient.

Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman supported the proposal going out to public consultation but believed whoever formed the next Government had to "step up" and take more responsibility for the sector.

In a written statement, Labour MP and Hamilton West candidate Sue Moroney said the council should delay any decision until after the election.

"A Labour-led Government would work in partnership with local authorities to increase the availability of social housing," Moroney said.

aaron.leaman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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