5 Nov 2015

New rules target 'picky' state house tenants

6:11 pm on 5 November 2015

The Cabinet has confirmed new rules to discourage people from turning down state houses.

State housing in Upper Hutt.

Turning down a state house offer is about to get harder. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett said that it was in response to some people being "unrealistically picky" when offered state houses.

"Every year people are refusing offers of hundreds of social housing properties without a good reason and this is holding up others from getting into warm, dry and adequate homes."

Under the new rules, people will only have the opportunity to turn down a house once - down from three times - without having a "good and sufficient" reason, before being removed from the social housing register.

People will be asked to pick at least three suburbs they would be willing to live in, whereas at the moment they only have to give one.

Mrs Bennett said increasing the number of suburb options would only apply where it was geographically possible and reasonable to do so.

She said each case would be assessed on merit, and people would be able to decline a house for good reasons such as health and safety, or concerns about security.

But there had been too many examples where houses were turned down without good reason, she said.

"Nearly 10,000 social housing offers were made last year and, of those, 3453 were declined, with 414 for unacceptable reasons such as wanting a garage or a bigger back yard."

She said she had heard of one case where the prospective tenants had seen children playing at the front of the house and on the sidewalk, and said they did not want to live around children.

'Comparatively small problem'

The Labour Party said the new rules were not so much about freeing up waiting lists, but about punishing state house tenants.

Labour housing spokesperson Phil Twyford said there were already rules in place to ensure people could not turn houses down for flimsy reasons, and it was a comparatively small problem.

"This is classic Paula Bennett," he said.

"We have an acute housing shortage... and what does she do? She picks on a problem that is very small in scale but that casts state house tenants in the most unflattering light.

"And why does she do it? She does it to throw red meat to a part of the National Party's voting constituency for whom state house tenants will always be the undeserving poor."

Mr Twyford said the requirement to name more than one preferred suburb could create more problems than it solved.

"Now that could mean pulling three, four or even five kids out of school and moving them across town... That's going to increase school transience and the under-performance of children in these vulnerable families."

Mrs Bennett said schooling would be among individual circumstances taken into account.

"For those who have got children at school age and that they want to keep in school, we would see that as a good reason for staying within just one suburb."

The changes will take effect from January next year.

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