12 Aug 2015

Sallies 'could halve social housing rents'

5:52 am on 12 August 2015

Wellington City Council is planning to partner up with the Salvation Army so council tenants can qualify for rent subsidies available only to community housing providers.

A council committee will decide this morning whether to press on and forge a deal, which could involve the Salvation Army leasing more council properties.

State house in Titahi Bay, Wellington.

Housing in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

The chair of the council's Community, Sport and Recreation Committee, Paul Eagle, said a partnership with the Salvation Army could almost halve rents for some tenants.

"[The Salvation Army] are eligible, through being a community housing provider, to ensure all new tenants recieve an income-related rent subsidy.

"Currently local authorities are ineligible to receive that, but the Salvation Army, who hold the status as a community provider, [would] mean the tenants will ultimately pay less."

He said a couple with children and an annual income of $20,000 could have their rent cut from $150 to $80 per week.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown also supported setting a deal with the Salvation Army, as long as it did not involve selling off housing stock.

"The partnership with the Salvation Army, for example, could look at the community housing provider leasing some of our social housing stock.

"It could look at them managing some portion of our asset, [but] we do want to continue council ownership of housing. We think it's really important to have that long term commitment."

Leasing an option

The Salvation Army said it was very early days and while it was open to working more closely with the council, it had no firm ideas as to what a partnership would look like.

Principal advisor Greg Coyle ruled out buying the properties but said it could be open to leasing more flats. It already rented a very small number of properties from the council.

"There are many ways that two organisations can work together, and I think we're really just too early on in our relationship to talk about what that might look like."

He said ideally the Salvation Army would just provide greater social services to council tenants, and he did not know how any rent cuts resulting from subsidies would actually play out.

New Zealand's biggest community housing group, Community Housing Aotearoa, said councils around the country - including Auckland and Christchurch - were considering similar partnerships in order to access the rent subsidies.

Director Scott Figenshow said long-term leasing was a good option. "Why should a tenant in need, who would otherwise meet the eligibility criteria, pay a higher rent out of pocket than someone else, simply because their landlord was a community housing provider or Housing New Zealand, versus a local authority?"

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