15 Apr 2024

Pensioner housing unit owners worried for future after sale falls through

2:33 pm on 15 April 2024

Pensioners who own units in a council-run affordable housing scheme are worried for their future now a sale to another operator has fallen through.

There are 14 of the pensioner villages across Auckland, and over half of the 150 units are now vacant because the council stopped on-selling the flats.

For months, Auckland Council's property arm Eke Panuku has been in negotiations with an undisclosed buyer, but said that sale was not going ahead and it was back to square one.

It has been two years since the council put its share of the own-your-own-home scheme for pensioners on the market.

The scheme was set up in the 1970s to provide affordable housing for retirees, with council buying back units then on-selling at 80 percent of the market value.

Trish Turney bought her unit in Sandringham four years ago.

She said having the council's share in the scheme up for sale was unsettling.

Lorraine Moon (left) and Pauline Sheddan have bought flats in Sandringham as part of Auckland Council's 'own your own home scheme'.

Lorraine Moon, left, and Pauline Sheddan own units in Sandringham through the council's own-your-own-home scheme. Photo: RNZ / Amy Williams

"The whole thing was a gigantic waste of time and money, probably, and I'm interested to know how much money was involved in the whole process."

Turney was anxious about her future.

"We've been through, the whole time not knowing what's happening and this is our homes, our forever homes we thought."

A letter Eke Panuku sent to residents in 2022, announcing the council was selling its share, said retirement villages offering wrap-around services had become "more appealing" and that older Aucklanders were not showing the level of interest in the scheme they once were.

But Pauline Sheddan, who bought a unit in the Sandringham village four years ago at 80 percent market value, disagreed.

She said the scheme wasn't marketed widely - she and others found out about it through word of mouth.

More than half the units in the village were now vacant - some had been for years, she said.

"There's a huge housing crisis, paricularly for older people and I know that if they [the units] were advertised they'd be queueing to get in."

Grey Power North Shore deputy president Trish Deans has been keeping in contact with residents affected at villages in Belmont and Takapuna, where more than half the units in the two villages are vacant.

She said such housing was desperately needed in Auckland.

"There's no intention, it would seem, by council to find anyone [individuals] to buy them and yet you would think out in this world of Auckland of high housing costs that there would be people who would see that as an opportunity rather than a retirement centre."

Six of the 11 units in Onehunga's Morton Court village are empty.

Terry Hegarty, 82, bought his unit from the council in 2021 and said it suited him perfectly, but he had to work hard to find the information about the scheme.

He had seen it advertised 20 years ago, but never since.

"I really had to go through the links on the council and do a bit of investigation but finally got there, and there it was, own-your-own-home scheme," Hegarty said.

Eke Panuku said the scheme would remain the same, and a future buyer would have to run it as intended.

But the uncertainty of who that would be worried Hegarty.

"I assumed I was going to be here for life and now it's up in the air."

What happened with the failed sale?

In September 2022, Auckland Council's finance and performance committee agreed to sell its interest in the scheme and delegated the responsibility for managing the process to Eke Panuku.

Councillors had decided that running the scheme was not the council's core businesses nor the best use of ratepayer money.

Eke Panuku undertook a two-stage go-to-market process, firstly seeking expressions of interest for council's share in the scheme both on the open market and directly with organisations identified has having experience, capability and skills to manage such a portfolio.

It identified a potential purchaser from a shortlist, coducted several months of due diligence including a three-month extension to fulfil the last remaining clause - but the final step could not be completed.

In a statement, Eke Panuku's general manager for assets and delivery, Marian Webb, said the potential buyer was "not able to meet all the necessary requirements".

"A decision was made not to proceed with the sale."

She said it would not be appropriate to note the specifics of the final clause that led to the sale falling through.

"We appreciate this continued uncertainty will be frustrating for homeowners."

Webb said the council was still looking to sell and would update homeowners as soon as possbile.

"Eke Panuku and Auckland Council were very clear at the start of the process that this has been, and will continue to be, about finding the right purchaser with the experience, capability, and skills to manage the villages within this unique portfolio," she said.

"It is not about taking just any offer or going with the highest bidder."

Webb said the successful purchaser would be expected to buy any unoccupied units and repurchase rights for the owned units.

"They would need to commit to all homeowners being able to remain in their home with the assurance that all existing contractual obligations will remain until the homeowner no longer requires their unit," she said.

"They would also need to be committed to making sure any new residents are compatible with older people and maintain the existing peace and quiet currently experienced in the villages."

What happens next?

Pauline Sheddan said two years of uncertainty was too many for anyone's retirement.

"My biggest concern is what happens next. What we want obviously is for them to go back to their original plan and sell them [individually] or alternatively to put them on the open market but with the same living conditions that we signed up to, 65 plus and so on."

She said the uncertainty was not something she expected to face when she bought the unit.

"It's frightening to know that you won't know who your neighbours will be and not knowing who is going to buy it, what sort of company. That's quite scary."

Suzanne Marbrook, 89, bought a unit at Onehunga's Morton Court six years ago after hearing about it from a friend and was concerned the villages would be landbanked.

"I think the whole thing's attractive to a developer. You ask me what I think will happen, it could be that they wait till we depart and then they've said the [units] are not fit for purpose so you can imagine it's a very valuable piece of land."

She said there would be a lot of interest from retirees in buying units, given the chance.

"Several people who have visited me would definitely like to live here, why wouldn't they? It's ground floor, it's got land, it's got parking, it's in a marvelous position."

Her neighbour Jeannie McKeown, 81, said they did not know what will happen next.

"Nobody was ever told what their Plan B might be, or if they had a Plan B. It's been a long haul," she said.

"I couldn't have a better quality of life than what I've got here. I've got everything on tap, everything I could want.

"They're saying not enough eligible older Aucklanders showing an interest. .. well, they were never advertised. I found out from somebody else and then the only way that you could find out about them was to look on the Auckland Council website."

Lorraine Moon owns a unit in the Sandringham village and said the number of vacant units was a safety concern.

"There's safety in numbers if there's a group of us here. We all back each other up, if somebody's not well we take them a meal ... there's always a backstop there."

She said none of the residents wanted to live in a retirement village - they could not afford it, and they valued their independence.

"I don't want to be the last man standing, thank you. In this village that we have here, we have a lady that's 100 years old, we have two or three that are in their 80s, we have another one who's just turned 90 and gone for her licence."

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