Big spike in bill for ridding state houses of meth in just one year
Housing New Zealand has spent $51.9 million on decontaminating state houses of methamphetamine in just 12 months, but questions linger over whether it was necessary.
The bill was a 147 per cent increase on the $21m spent in the 2015-16 financial year – a jump Social Housing Minister Amy Adams put down to increased testing in late 2016.
The figures follow the recent introduction of higher contamination standards governing what still remains an unregulated testing industry.
The new detail was released in response to an Official Information Act request on the damage costs left by outgoing Housing New Zealand (HNZ) tenants.
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The government agency revealed that the 10 biggest cleanups in both Wellington and across the country from 2014 to 2017 were all meth-related.
The most expensive were in south Auckland, with one state house in McKenzie Rd, Mangere Bridge, costing $103,041, followed by a Chantal Pl property in Papakura ($103,013).
State houses in Papakura and Favona incurred costs of $96,848 and $93,336 respectively. Work on all four houses was carried out in 2016-17.
Wellington was also affected, with $75,899 poured into a Victory Ave state house in Karori.
Homes in Lower Hutt included on in Barber Grove, Moera ($59,421); Strand Cres, Naenae ($49,674); and Pirie Cres, Moera ($42,293).
Adams described the class A drug as "a scourge" that ruined lives and livelihoods. "HNZ has ramped up its meth testing, and therefore, are naturally catching more people.
"We have a zero-tolerance policy for tenants using or cooking meth in our social houses, and I make no apologies for that. It's illegal, but also makes the social houses unsafe for people to live in."
However, Massey University school of public health senior lecturer Nick Kim said the health impact on those living in a house where the previous tenants had used P – rather than "cooking", or making it – was low.
"The risks left after smoking [meth] are not really distinguishable from the risks you'd leave on the walls from ordinary tobacco smoking. It's down that end of the scale."
He emphasised that it was essential to decontaminate a home where meth had been manufactured, as it was highly dangerous to live in such a house, particularly for children.
"The majority of cases where meth is detected is when people have just been using it – probably more than 99 per cent of the cases.
"New Zealand's been the only country crazy enough to go testing for meth in the general community. Almost all of the other countries that I know of only test for meth where there's known to be a meth lab where someone's been making it," Kim said.
If an HNZ tenant is found to have contaminated the property with meth, their tenancy is terminated and they won't have access to another HNZ home for 12 months.
HNZ said recovering decontamination costs from departing tenants was challenging, with a 60-day timeframe to apply for compensation through the Tenancy Tribunal being a sticking point.
Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford claimed the government has "completely mishandled the problem of P contamination in state housing".
"They have wasted tens of millions of dollars on P decontamination, remediation and testing, with no idea whether or not houses showing ... contamination posed any kind of risk at all to the people living in them.
"HNZ has kicked out hundreds of tenants on the basis of data that is completely unreliable.
"We have no way of knowing how much of that $51.9m spent on testing and decontamination was wasted, and how much of it was necessary."