30 Jan 2020

Masterton house prices soar out of reach, no state homes available

From Checkpoint, 5:28 pm on 30 January 2020

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A lack of state-owned housing in Masterton is putting pressure on local charities and the region's only community housing provider.

Lyn Tankersley, of the Masterton food bank, said more people were asking for help with housing.

"Rental prices have just skyrocketed especially over here ... we've got solo mums paying $500 a week," she said.

"That's just ridiculous ... we need to be building hundreds of houses to get people accommodated and that's just not happening."

Tankersley said she and other volunteers were trying to find a house they could set up as emergency accommodation for people who had nowhere else to go.

Masterton city councillor Sandy Ryan said this area had unique challenges compared to the rest of New Zealand.

"We've got a lack of social housing, we've got only one provider, we don't have the government's provider, we have waiting lists. We have no income-related rent scheme - which limits people's rent to 25 percent of their income - and we have no mechanism at the moment for addressing it."

There are almost no social houses in the Wairarapa.

There used to be more than 500, but 20 years ago the government sold them to Trust House, the country's first community housing provider.

It operates most of those now as community accommodation.

But Ryan was concerned that Trust House was raising its rents.

"All the tenants have just been notified they're about to get another $20 week increase a week from March," she said.

Trust House chief executive Allan Pollard said the rent rise was necessary to reinvest in the former state homes it owned, many of which were in need of renovations.

"Fundamentally we've been playing catch up for a number of years. None of us wants to push the rents up, but the fact of the matter is these houses are on average 70 years old, very traditional statehouses," he said.

"We need to drive rent so that we can reinvest [in the houses]."

Pollard said he wanted the government to partner more with organisations like his to improve the quantity and quality of community housing stock in the Masterton area.

And in the meantime he said demand for a community house was rapidly rising - the organisation had 50-60 active applications.

"I've been chief executive since 2015. When I took over the occupancy was about 93 percent at the time throughout the whole portfolio - now it's about 100 percent."

The government, 18 months ago, said it would create 80 social housing options in Wairarapa by 2022.

But Wairarapa Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty said challenges around who would run these homes were still being worked through.

"When you have no Kāinga Ora (formerly Housing New Zealand) presence here, it's always going to take longer, and create more challenges than those regions that have a Kāinga Ora presence," he said.

Associate housing minister Kris Faafoi said he was seeking advice on how to deal with public housing demand issues in Wairarapa.

Meanwhile, a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spokesperson said the government was aware that demand for housing was greater than current supply.

"In Masterton, the HUD housing supply team is working with several community housing providers on proposals to bring on new warm, safe and dry public housing in the area," they said.