Top-up for thousands of Waikato households

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 10:00 21/01/2014

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Thousands of Waikato households are receiving the accommodation supplement to meet unaffordable housing costs each year, but one social service provider says the Government subsidy is having little effect on housing quality and is doing nothing to address supply problems.

More than 21,000 people were receiving the weekly accommodation supplement to help cover the costs of rent, board, or mortgage payments in the Waikato region at the end of 2013 financial year.

Nationally there were 299,142 recipients - a drop from 308,551 in 2011.

The figures, released to the Waikato Times through an official information act request, showed demand for the supplement - which has been a key part of New Zealand's social housing policy since it was introduced in 1993 - has stayed fairly consistent over the past three years.

In the Waikato, the number of people receiving assistance has hovered around 22,000.

However, Alan Johnson, a social policy analyst at the Salvation Army, said that after 20 years it did not appear the policy had had a positive effect.

"The quality of housing, particularly in the rental sector, is fairly poor. So we're spending all this taxpayer money and we're not even getting decent outcomes for it."

The benefit was expected to cost the Government about $1.2 billion a year until 2016, according to a 2011 treasury forecast.

Mr Johnson said the policy had not addressed the housing supply problem

and the policy came with a big price tag.

"We've relied heavily on the accommodation supplement to date as our main policy, but possibly now we need to shift our emphasis.

"We think that needs to be done on the supply side and it needs to be done in ways that address the supply of affordable housing."

He said the Government needed to review housing support policies entirely, and suggested affordable home ownership programmes or an extension to the social housing programme.

Nationally, average weekly payments to people receiving the accommodation supplement were $71 last year and $60 in Waikato.

Payments to residents in Auckland - regarded as the country's most unaffordable housing market - averaged $98 a week, while Wellington was $69.

The data come at the same time as a global report showed house prices in New Zealand were 5.5 times the median household income and labelled "severely unaffordable".

The report, titled Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, said house prices in Waikato were 4.8 times the median household income and considered "seriously unaffordable".

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harry.pearl@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato

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