Daily balancing act of housing
From drug swabbing to dealing with debt issues, being a Housing New Zealand tenancy manager is a real juggling act. Reporter Lauren Priestley spent a day in Tamaki with area manager John Walker to find out how his team keeps all of the balls in the air.
You can barely see the wallpaper of the first state house we enter.
There is tagging on almost every wall, pane of glass and windowsill of the Tripoli Rd family home. Even the edges of the door frames are covered with the graffiti.
A couple of the windows are smashed in, there are gaping holes in the walls and a pile of clothes strewn across the dirty toilet floor.
It’s not the worst Housing New Zealand area manager John Walker has seen.
‘‘We have to look at it and think: ‘If we kicked these people out, where would they go?’
‘‘We’re making progress. It’s going to be slow progress and take months, not weeks, but it’s progress.
‘‘It’s looking 100 per cent better than it was.’’
Housing New Zealand has been working with the family to clean up the property over the past month.
The garden is now empty of the hundreds of beer bottles and spare tyres that were there the week before.
A new padlock adorns the gate to prevent a group of rowdy friends taking part in regular daytime drinking sessions and urinating in the garden.
The family has bought new glass panes and is waiting for a friend to put them in the windows cheaply.
It is about helping them to tidy up the house by themselves, Walker says.
‘‘The big part is to make people responsible for that behaviour. As soon as you identify issues around damage it has to be rectified.’’
Most tenants only receive an annual inspection unless there is a red flag on their tenancy, Walker says.
One tenant we drop in to see during her annual inspection has perched a gas cooker on top of her electric stove to save money.
Another has a dog on the property without consent.
The third has lived there for 17 years and proudly shows us around her clean and tidy home.
Each of the 12 tenancy managers operating out of Walker’s office have about 400 tenants to look after.
It is a mixed bag, Walker says.
‘‘I love being able to help the needy people.
‘‘It’s just like with anything. It’s the very small minority that takes the majority of your time.’’
Drug use is one of the issues that can be involved with the ‘‘minority’’, Walker says.
Housing New Zealand is alerted if the police have charged someone with using methamphetamine at a state house. And the latest tenant in Glen Innes.
We arrive at the house just as staff from an external company are putting on white suits and masks to perform an initial drug swab.
The test looks for meth contamination and, if it comes back positive, a more comprehensive survey of the house is undertaken.
There are several children currently living at the property, Walker says.
‘‘When we get that information we have an obligation to make sure the house is safe. It can have long-term effects on children and on adults.’’
The cost of fixing a state house affected by meth can range from $8000 to upwards of $50,000 depending on the severity.
And that is on top of the $200 million Housing New Zealand spends on general house repairs and maintenance annually, Walker says.
One Dalton St house we visit has just been vacated by a family who lived there for 20 years. It is their final tenancy inspection.
There are stains on the carpet and peeling wallpaper but it has generally been left in a clean condition.
Sometimes houses are left with piles of rubbish and belongings, needing more time and money before new tenants can move in, Walker says.
‘‘Unfortunately some of our tenants leave the place disgusting. Food, dirty nappies, everything just thrown about.
‘‘As long as they make an effort to clean, it’s OK.’’
Housing New Zealand tenancy managers check over the property and get contractors in for any work that needs doing.
A house on Tosca Lane has just been through that process and is looking spick and span. The adapted unit has been fitted out with new curtains and polished linoleum flooring so it’s ready for a new inhabitant in coming weeks.
The only part of the day that doesn’t work out is visiting tenants who have got into debt.
One woman hasn’t paid rent for three weeks. It is time to have some tough conversations.
But after rapping on four tenants’ doors to no avail, the tenancy manager has to admit we are out of luck.
His tenants are avoiding him, so he will make sure he is back the next day.
And so the juggling act continues.
A Housing New Zealand property on Tosca Lane that has been renovated ready for a new tenant to move in.
Housing New Zealand area manager John Walker says his job is a mixed bag.
This Dalton St house might look tired, but the tenancy manager has seen much worse. He is pleased the outgoing tenants made the effort to leave it clean and tidy.