18 Mar 2024

Government takes stricter stance on unruly social housing tenants

4:00 pm on 18 March 2024
A state house in Northcote

An Auckland state house (file image). Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The housing and finance ministers have sent a letter demanding Kāinga Ora - Homes and Communities take a tougher stance on unruly social housing tenants.

The ministers say the Sustaining Tenancies Framework - which aims to keep tenants in a home - has meant there is no incentive for them to improve antisocial behaviour or stop damaging the houses.

The approach began in 2017 under the former National government - part of a social investment strategy to help reduce evictions - and continued under Labour.

The letter, signed by Chris Bishop and Nicola Willis, called for the social housing agency and landlord to replace the framework, and "strike a different balance between the benefits to a disruptive tenant of sustaining the tenancy and the impacts of that approach on neighbours".

It also set out expectations Kāinga Ora would make "timely usage" of things like formal warning notices and relocations under the Residential Tenancies Act, and in severe and persistent cases, be "accelerating the process of tenancy termination".

The move was in line with a commitment set out in the National-ACT coalition agreement.

In a statement, Bishop said the framework had "exactly the effect you'd expect".

"There are hundreds of serious complaints every month - the most recent stat has been 335 serious complaints per month - of things like intimidation, harassment, threatening behaviour and worse. And yet, in all of 2023 only three tenancies ended due to 'disruptive behaviour'.

"New Zealanders are sick of hearing about terrifying and heartbreaking stories from neighbours of abusive and antisocial Kāinga Ora tenants. It's completely unacceptable that people should have to live in fear."

National Party MP Chris Bishop

Housing Minister Chris Bishop. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The letter also called for a stronger approach to social tenants who fail to pay rent, urges the organisation to fill untenanted homes as quickly as possible, and meet social housing targets for the 23/24 and 24/25 years.

They expected to be provided with monthly updates from the board, alongside expectations of the agency participating fully in the programme of public sector cuts "and that you continually drive action to reduce delivery costs down".

The government, as part of its first-100-days plan, also ordered an independent review of the agency - led by former Prime Minister Bill English - which was due to report back in two weeks.

"We acknowledge the Kāinga Ora review currently underway, but expect savings to be identified in advance of the findings of this review," the letter said.

"We expect to be informed before you make any new planned investments, including changes to existing investments in the Kāinga Ora Land Programme ... programmes and activities that are not delivering results should be stopped and funding should be reprioritised."

The letter also demanded "succinct, relevant and timely" performance reports with the Board's assessment of organisational and financial performance, risk management, and "information about the board's efforts to improve value for money".

"We are not interested in performance reports that apply a 'good news only' lens. Please work with HUD on suitable formats for reporting that include quality financial information."

Bishop had in January written to the board to make clear he wanted social homes left empty no longer than absolutely necessary.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins in December suggested the government's rhetoric was aiming to "manufacture a crisis" and stop the house building programme.

ACT leader David Seymour said while the directive did not go "as far as ACT would", it was "going further than it would without ACT".

"We'll continue to advocate for stronger action, such as ensuring tenants terminated for anti-social behaviour are moved to the bottom of housing waitlists, and requiring Kāinga Ora to engage with police if they are made aware of illegal activity."

Seymour said the "threat of eviction is an essential incentive to discourage malicious behaviour".

"An antisocial minority of Kāinga Ora tenants learned they could terrorise their neighbours without consequence… Today's change in tack will be a relief to residents subjected to ceaseless noise, vandalism, and threats."

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