29 Feb 2024

Napier council 'reopening the conversation' to sell social housing

6:24 pm on 29 February 2024
Wellesley Place is one of the Napier City Council's low income housing complexes in the city.

Wellesley Place is one of the Napier City Council's low income housing complexes in the city. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

There are concerns for some of Napier's most vulnerable residents as the council plans to sell off its social housing in favour of retirement flats.

Napier City Council said it was "reopening the conversation" and consulting the public on its 377 community housing units - 304 retirement flats, and 73 classed as social housing.

It floated a sale of the whole portfolio just two years ago, but backed down after significant public backlash, and raised the rent instead.

But that still was not enough to keep up with maintenance, so it was considering focusing on retirement housing and moving social housing to providers who are "experts in that area".

Keeping the housing as is would mean a 2.6 percent rates increase every year, it said.

A letter to tenants, seen by RNZ and signed by council chief executive Louise Miller, was more specific.

"Over time, we want to move away from social housing.

"We want to keep, and potentially increase, our retirement housing. We want to be able to invest in our retirement housing including making sure it is healthy for our tenants."

The council promised to "honour our current tenants and make sure they have a home," Miller said.

'Just shocking'

This was not good enough, said local tenants' advocate Dawn Bedingfield, who vehemently protested the axing of community housing last time around.

"Just stunned, beyond words, just shocking, I can't believe they've done that after such a short time, and the stress they put their tenants through."

Nelson Place Village is another low income housing complex that the council owns in Napier.

Nelson Place Village is a low income housing complex that the council owns in Napier. Photo: RNZ/Tom Kitchin

The recent rent rise introduced by the council was meant to pay for the "significant upkeep" Miller cited in her letter, said Bedingfield.

"It should have been enough ... They had done the figures, and that should have covered them."

The council argued a lot had changed since then, like the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle, and higher labour, materials and insurance costs.

Bedingfield was worried about the social housing residents.

"It has to be noted that there's very vulnerable people in there, so if they did consider selling that and it ended up being sold, they need a really responsible landlord."

Opposition to any sale may wane this time around because "the mayor's couched this one on it being a contributor to rate rises," said social housing provider Whatever It Takes Trust general manager Phil Ross.

"But I think the community still wants the council and central government to be involved in helping house our community, whether it be pensioners or those more vulnerable people who are in need of appropriate housing."

Napier had a dire housing shortage, and selling off the assets would do nothing to solve it, he said.

"For us it doesn't create any more housing, there's a great housing need in Napier, and in Hawke's Bay, so this is really a transfer of ownership to another body that may be able to handle it."

At the council's three-year plan meeting on 14 March, councillors would finalise options around the future of community housing, Miller's letter said.

Then, after meetings with tenants, a month-long public consultation would begin on 25 March.