Tax­pay­ers pay mil­lions for un­nec­es­sary meth clean-up

Bay of Plenty Times - - FRONT PAGE - Scott Yeo­man Plenty Times Week­end Bay of Plenty Times Week­end, Bay of Bay Week­end of Plenty Times

Com­mu­nity hous­ing provider Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties has been paid more than $5.7 mil­lion by the tax­payer for metham­phetamine test­ing and clean-up in for­mer state houses in Tau­ranga and the West­ern Bay.

But un­der the new meth test­ing guide­lines a lot of that money ap­pears to have been wasted, with 122 prop­er­ties – in hind­sight – un­nec­es­sar­ily fixed up and their res­i­dents moved out.

Like Hous­ing New Zealand (HNZ) and many pri­vate land­lords, Ac­ces­si­ble was fol­low­ing the na­tional stan­dard that was in place at the time.

How­ever, an Of­fi­cial In­for­ma­tion Act re­sponse by HNZ has re­vealed that just 25 homes would have tested above the rec­om­mended level un­der the new meth con­tam­i­na­tion thresh­old.

That amounts to about 2 per cent of the 1138 houses sold to Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties by HNZ on April 1 last year.

Yet 147 of those prop­er­ties – about 13 per cent of the to­tal trans­fer – have had or are hav­ing de­con­tam­i­na­tion and re­me­di­a­tion work done on them, for which Ac­ces­si­ble has claimed an es­ti­mated $5,707,181 from HNZ.

It has also claimed an es­ti­mated $533,148.01 in test­ing costs, bring­ing the to­tal to $6,240,329.01.

HNZ has paid $5,767,705.15 of that as at Septem­ber 24.

Un­der the Sale and Pur­chase Agree­ment, Ac­ces­si­ble could claim for struc­tural dam­age, metham­phetamine con­tam­i­na­tion, and test­ing costs where a com­pre­hen­sive test con­firmed lev­els above 1.5mcg.

A HNZ re­port on its pre­vi­ous ap­proach to meth con­tam­i­na­tion in its houses, re­leased last week, showed 800 ten­ants were kicked out of their state houses for meth con­tam­i­na­tion and 542 were charged nearly $7m in to­tal for meth con­tam­i­na­tion be­tween 2013 and 2018.

HNZ chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drew McKen­zie es­ti­mated that for each of the 800 ten­ants evicted an­other two peo­ple went with them – adding up to about 2400 peo­ple evicted na­tion­wide.

HNZ also spent $120m on de­con­tam­i­nat­ing and restor­ing prop­er­ties, and de­mol­ished 40, while us­ing a meth stan­dard now found to be in­ac­cu­rate.

Tommy Wil­son, di­rec­tor of Te Tuinga Wha¯nau – Sup­port Ser­vices Trust, told the

that the meth test­ing de­ba­cle had cre­ated “false hys­te­ria” and “un­nec­es­sary, op­por­tunis­tic greed”.

“And the peo­ple who had to pay for it were the ones who could least af­ford it.”

Wil­son said it “added fuel to the home­less fire” and the rip­ple ef­fect was still be­ing felt to­day by his or­gan­i­sa­tion and its clients.

He em­pha­sised that Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties was not at fault and was just act­ing un­der what was law at the time, which was the New Zealand Stan­dard in­tro­duced in June 2017.

That stan­dard rec­om­mended de­con­tam­i­na­tion of rooms where lev­els above 1.5mcg/100cm2 were tested, ir­re­spec­tive of the use or man­u­fac­tur­ing of meth.

Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties’ mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar claims re­late to the costs in­volved with test­ing, de­con­tam­i­nat­ing and re­me­di­at­ing the rooms in each prop­erty that were iden­ti­fied as ex­ceed­ing 1.5mcg.

How­ever, Pro­fes­sor Sir Peter Gluck­man’s Chief Science Ad­viser (CSA) Re­port, re­leased in May this year, changed ev­ery­thing and showed that to be un­nec­es­sary.

The re­port said there was no ev­i­dence that third-hand ex­po­sure from metham­phetamine smok­ing STOCK PHOTO/GETTY IM­AGES caused ad­verse health ef­fects.

It said lev­els ex­ceed­ing 1.5mcg should not sig­nal a health risk and ex­po­sure 10 times higher (15mcg) would also be un­likely to have any ad­verse ef­fects. Test­ing was not war­ranted in most cases be­cause the risk was so low.

The Gluck­man re­port also found re­me­di­a­tion in most cases was needed only in homes that had been for­mer clan­des­tine labs pro­duc­ing the drugs and where meth had been heav­ily used. In its OIA re­sponse to the

HNZ said it had not been made aware of any meth labs iden­ti­fied in any of the 1138 trans­ferred prop­er­ties.

And it said only 25 of the homes would have tested above 15mcg – the new rec­om­mended thresh­old.

Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties said while no metham­phetamine labs were con­firmed, “a num­ber of prop­er­ties showed lev­els of con­tam­i­na­tion well above that usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with smok­ing”.

Last week, HNZ said it would for­mally apol­o­gise to ten­ants af­fected by its pre­vi­ous ap­proach to meth con­tam­i­na­tion and would re­im­burse them for the costs they in­curred.

The

asked Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties whether it would do the same, but did not re­ceive a de­fin­i­tive an­swer.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Greg Or­chard said in a state­ment that the or­gan­i­sa­tion had tested all 1138 HNZ prop­er­ties “un­der the re­quired 2017 stan­dard”.

He said a to­tal of 147 prop­er­ties tested pos­i­tive for meth con­tam­i­na­tion “above the limit that was con­sid­ered safe at that time”. “We ended three of these ten­an­cies based on solid ev­i­dence that ten­ants were either found to be us­ing or sell­ing metham­phetamine in their homes. One of these ten­ants has since been re­housed with us, with ap­pro­pri­ate sup­port in place,” Or­chard said.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of ten­ants who were in these homes con­tinue to be housed by us, as we very rarely seek to evict ten­ants.”

Ear­lier this year, fol­low­ing the re­lease of the Gluck­man re­port, both HNZ and Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties adopted the new test­ing stan­dards.

Mean­while, the de­con­tam­i­na­tion and re­me­di­a­tion work on the 147 prop­er­ties is still not com­plete.

Ac­ces­si­ble said the fi­nal three prop­er­ties were due for com­ple­tion by the end of Oc­to­ber. “This in­vest­ment has had a pos­i­tive im­pact on the over­all stan­dard of the port­fo­lio given the level of de­ferred main­te­nance li­a­bil­ity in­her­ited through the trans­fer process,” Or­chard said.

None of the 147 houses deemed un­safe at the time had been de­mol­ished.

A to­tal of 147 homes owned by Ac­ces­si­ble Prop­er­ties in Tau­ranga and West­ern Bay have had or are hav­ing de­con­tam­i­na­tion and re­me­di­a­tion work done on them. Pro­fes­sor Sir Peter Gluck­man.

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