Nadine Warbrick and Tui Dunlop
Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley advises many clients who have renting issues. Many of our most vulnerable and high-needs clients live in New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) housing. We have had some excellent experiences of positive engagement with HNZC workers, and we know the difference proper housing can make to a person’s life. However, current policies and circumstances make the work difficult. Many of our clients experience difficulty with HNZC eligibility, and with housing quality and availability. This article describes some recent HNZC events affecting our clients.
HNZC moves towards high needs, short stays
In the 2011/12 year, HNZC implemented a “new operating model” which has impacted on our clients in many ways.[i] The new model tries to step away from the mentality that HNZC provides emergency housing for everyone. “Moderate” and “low” priority applicants no longer make it on to the waiting list. (People (referred to as households) with “moderate” need are households that are “disadvantaged and this [disadvantage] is likely to be compounded over time due to the unsuitability and/or inadequacy of their current housing”.[ii]) People with moderate or low housing needs were to be placed on a “housing needs register” and assisted to find other housing.[iii] Our experience has been that such assistance is often provided by community groups.
Charities are also being called on to assist current HNZC tenants and high priority tenants who are on the HNZC waiting list.
Current HNZC tenancies are being reviewed. Tenants’ housing needs are being assessed and tenants are being encouraged to seek private accommodation or to make re-housing plans.
Vulnerable tenants are increasingly being required to rely on private landlords. Applicants for HNZC tenancies who fit within a high priority criterion are encouraged to search for private accommodation while they wait for an HNZC property. Our clients are having a lot of difficulty finding appropriate, affordable private rentals. Some of our clients have viewed 10-15 private properties, which are usually over their budget or not suitable. The demand for these properties has made it extremely difficult for our clients to get selected when applying for private rentals. With some people having been on the HNZC waiting list for over a year, unable to afford to rent privately, we see people living in overcrowded homes, with up to 16 family members in a 3 bedroom home. With numerous HNZC properties being vacated recently for maintenance, we expect to see more of these scenarios.
The number of boarded-up houses in the Lower Hutt region, awaiting earthquake strengthening and other maintenance, is a local concern which is frequently addressed by the Hutt News.[iv] This vacant housing is affecting our vulnerable communities, who are being moved from their tenancies and in to new communities. HNZC has advised they are doing as much as possible to assist with easy re-settlement. We have also seen similar actions happening in Wellington city. Tenants have been assisted to resettle to other tenancies, but have been disappointed not to be given the option of temporary relocation and eventual return to their former home. Some elderly/disabled HNZC tenants who may have been living in one place for over 8 years have found it extremely stressful having to relocate, find a suitable home for their needs, and set up home again.
Maintenance is obviously important, but the resultant reduction in supply of housing for vulnerable people is a serious concern. HNZC has even had difficulty re-housing a tenant from substandard housing despite a Tenancy Tribunal order to do so.[v] We are also concerned about the effect on waitlisted applicants.
Redevelopment is planned where there are large areas of HNZC buildings deemed earthquake prone. Redevelopment is likely to take a new form, different from the blocks of HNZC houses or apartments with which we have been familiar. The new trend will be towards areas which mix private (“affordable housing”), HNZC and social housing. The Pomare community redevelopment is planned to be an example of this ideal.
Last year, HNZC homes in Pomare were demolished and members of the Pomare community were transferred in to homes in other suburbs of Lower Hutt. In January this year, Pomare Community Centre hosted an open consultation hui, inviting feedback on proposals for development in that area.
Despite having to re-establish networks in their new communities, former Pomare residents also provided constructive feedback about what would replace their previous living spaces. Pomare residents and others consulted gave feedback which included requests for more living spaces, bigger community gardens, Marae and communal swimming pools. It was apparent that the community in general was more interested in communal spaces than in the size of the proposed houses. The community was keen to live as a close neighbourhood.
The City Living Group Ltd (CLG), responsible for redevelopment in Pomare, said the final shape is yet to be determined. In providing “affordable housing” for locals, CLG was “aiming for” house prices of $350,000. The CLG website dedicated to the Pomare redevelopment (www.pomareredevelopment.co.nz) states that “the project aims to create a more balanced community through a mix of housing that will provide a greater level of option and choice including social and affordable rental housing and private home ownership”. The theory is that mixed communities will lead to better social environments, but it is not clear whether those who will afford the private house prices will be owner-occupiers.
So, in addition to the HNZC redevelopments and reassessments, HNZC tenants will be urged to move in to private tenancies or to other HNZC tenancies. This may mean tenants will have to come up with moving costs, re-settlement costs (including moving children to new schools). In the interim, these un-developed blocks and apartments are an eye-sore to the Lower Hutt communities affected.
Relocations and other struggles with HNZC and with private landlords are a huge issue. The stress and instability impacts seriously on families; placing tension on relationships, requiring children to move schools, and creating moving and travel costs. Policy conversations about mixed communities, capital gains tax, healthy rentals regulations and home ownership levels need to progress. More immediately, if your clients are having tenancy issues, you can seek information for them from 0800 TENANCY (formerly the DBH, now MBIE) or from www.communitylaw.org.nz, or you can contact Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley (499 2928 and 568 0175).
[i] Changes are described in the “Chief Executive’s Overview” in Housing New Zealand’s 2011/2012 Annual Report.
[ii] See “Social Allocation System Criteria” on www.hnzc.co.nz.
[iii] Beehive Press Release “New rules for a fairer social housing system” 29 June 2011.
[iv] “Progress drags on Housing NZ homes” 2 April 2013.
[v] “Cora’s long wait for HNZ action” Hutt News, 21 August 2012.