25 Mar 2015

State house sale plan 'sugar coated'

6:53 am on 25 March 2015

The Government is being accused of exploiting charities to push through its state house sell-off plan.

Labour says the Government has used the Salvation Army's good name to reassure the public that houses will be sold to charities, when in it actually plans to sell them to private companies. The Salvation Army has decided not to buy state houses due to a lack of resources.

In Parliament yesterday, minister responsible for Housing New Zealand Bill Englishsaid he could not rule out the idea that state houses could be sold to private developers.

But Mr English said anyone who wanted to buy state houses, with low-income and vulnerable tenants in them, would need to go through the process of registering as a community housing provider.

Sue Henry, spokesperson for The Housing Lobby, a group that opposes selling off state houses, said the Government had softened up the public by reassuring people that charities, rather than investors, would take on the state houses.

"We've said right from day one that the intent was always to flog them off to the speculators," said Ms Henry. "And we've also believed that the charities and the iwi were just the Trojan horse to carry the baton so the other reforms could be pushed through."

On Monday, after months of deliberation, the Salvation Army ruled out buying state houses from the government.

The charity, which already houses hundreds of tenants, said it did not have the expertise, infrastructure and resources to do a good job of managing a large housing portfolio.

Labour's Phil Twyford thinks the government used the good name of the Salvation Army and other charities to push a plan for privatisation.

"What they have done is sugar coated what is a very unpopular and unpalatable policy for New Zealanders by front-ending it with community organisations and charities who the community likes and respects."

Salvation Army housing spokesperson Campbell Roberts said all governments used charities to push through their ideas but was offended by the suggestion that it had been taken in.

"There is the situation in which at various points governments does try to use the community sector in a way that's for their own purposes rather than for our purposes, and we've just got to be rigourous about that, that's part of the political process."

Mr Roberts said the Salvation Army had little control over the government, media or housing groups using its name as part of the debate around the state housing reforms.

Mr English said the Salvation Army had been giving the Government advice on its plan to give community groups more of a role in running social housing and the church was supportive of the Government's move away from state housing.

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