24 Mar 2015

Minister defends state house sell-off

6:29 pm on 24 March 2015

The Government is not ruling out selling off thousands of state houses to private developers.

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Photo: RNZ

Today it acknowledged many state houses were not up to standard and had not been properly maintained.

It admitted the cost of deferred maintenance had risen to $1.5 billion and the matter had been discussed with social agencies that were considering buying state houses.

The Salvation Army has already said it would not be buying any of the 8000 state houses under the hammer.

During question time in the House, Labour leader Andrew Little asked the Prime Minister whether his policy was backfiring - but not without making a reference to the cricket.

"Mr Speaker, it's 31 for 2 and time is marching on. We need to get a move on. After telling the House last week that 'there is not a housing crisis', isn't it true that New Zealand not only has a social housing crisis and a housing affordability crisis but now the Government has a housing policy crisis as well?"

Finance Minister Bill English in question time.

Finance Minister Bill English speaking in Parliament (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Finance Minister Bill English, who is also the minister responsible for Housing New Zealand, answered on the Prime Minister's behalf.

"We have a once in a generation opportunity to improve the lives of the most seriously needy New Zealanders who have been neglected by past governments in housing that was of low quality and this government is going to change it with the assistance of many hundreds, if not thousands, of other people in New Zealand."

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei asked Mr English if he was ruling out selling Housing New Zealand-owned homes to private developers.

Mr English did not oblige: "I can't rule that out. Housing New Zealand in the last year sold 600 houses and probably quite a number of those were sold to private developers but anyone who wants to buy state houses, who have low-income and vulnerable tenants in them, will need to register as a community housing provider."

Ms Turei questioned why the Salvation Army did not want to be part of the Government's plans.

"Was the Minister suggesting earlier that the Salvation Army was lying when they said, when they rejected the state house sell-off programme, that it won't improve people's lives?"

Mr English disagreed and took a dig at the Green Party instead.

"They did not reject the programme. What they said was that at this stage they don't want to participate in those particular transactions and in fact they have been an advocate for change and I'm a bit surprised to hear the so-called radical Greens arguing for the status quo."

Mr English also said he understood the Salvation Army was in the process of registering as a community housing provider.

The Government is expected to begin consulting with community housing providers and iwi in April, with commercial negotiations starting in June.

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