22 Oct 2021

Wellington social housing: tenants called on to help task force

9:34 am on 22 October 2021

Wellington's social housing tenants are being called on to help find a solution to the rocketing cost of council houses.

State houses in Northcote

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Wellington City Council announced it will be creating a mayoral task force on social housing.

The council manages 1927 units, accommodating 3500 tenants.

Rent prices are fixed at 70 percent of the market rate, but with Wellington's rising housing costs that amount has increased significantly for tenants in recent years.

But it is also too expensive for the council.

Earlier this year the council began considering its options to exit its social housing.

An operating deficit of nearly $50 million is projected by 2030.

The council decided earlier this month it would be working towards two solutions, with support from the task force.

The first is getting the government to extend its Income-Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS) for Wellington City Housing tenants.

The second is establishing a Community Housing Provider (CHP).

The IRRS caps rent to 25 percent of a tenants income, with the government topping up the remainder.

The subsidy is a rent top-up for tenants who live in a house run by either Kāinga Ora or a CHP.

More than 80 percent of the council's tenants would be eligible for the IRRS if they did not live in council housing.

Debbie Port is one of them.

Almost 60 percent of her income currently goes towards rent for her one-bedroom apartment.

She said the constant financial stress was robbing her and her neighbours' dignity.

"I think people are ashamed, they have to go to work and income to get a food grant or they have to get assistance to pay the power. How are we meant to pay for our bills and stuff when it goes to our rent?"

She and other tenants were not supportive of the council establishing a Community Housing Provider.

A CHP would also take the financial burden off the council, and but it would only allow new tenants to have access to IRRS.

Porter and other tenants believed they would be left behind if a CHP was established, and were motivated to be part of the task force so make their message clear.

A newly-formed campaign group, IRRS 4 All, wants council to keep pushing government for change.

The task force will include tenants, some councillors, social housing and public health experts.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said including tenants into the conversation was important.

"We owe it to our tenants to look beyond 'band-aid' solutions and work with them to create long-lasting, sustainable solutions," he said.

The task force is intended to operate from November and will report directly to council, with a final report by June 2022.

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