Our chance to improve social housing
Local authorities are not eligible for Central Government social housing funding so there is a challenge for our local councils to fund any form of social housing.
Some don’t see social housing as their core business. Some, like Christchurch City Council, which is really keen to support social housing and keen to expand their current stock, have been a little creative in the way that they will access the social housing funding.
About $50 million worth of Christchurch City Council-owned social housing assets have been transferred to The Otautahi Community Housing Trust. By doing this the social housing is protected and the Otautahi Community Housing Trust will now be able to apply for central government funding. The tenants will now be able to apply for income related rents as this was not an option when Christchurch City Council owned the properties.
What is the Wellington City Council doing about social housing? Wellington City Council own around 2200 units at over 40 locations across Wellington city with a market valuation of $353 million (2012). These units are a mix of large apartment complexes, smaller blocks of flats and stand alone houses. Wellington City Council also manages 26 units for Porirua City Council.
Hamilton City Council in 2015 agreed to sell the city’s remaining pensioner housing stock for $23.5 million to social housing provider Accessible Properties. Current deputy mayor Martin Gallagher at the time said: ‘‘Today is all about the final, I think, nail in the coffin of 60 years or so of proud history, of great mayors. None of these councils had on their agenda at all to sell pensioner housing, so today is quite historic’’. Councillor Dave Macpherson added: ‘‘I predict a future council, if we sell everything in the pensioner housing area, will be getting back in that game and it will cost us a lot more to do that than to maintain and improve our current stock’’.
We have sold this last batch of properties and there have been some positives. Firstly the housing did not go to a private developer like some of the first units that were sold, the new tenants that go into the tenancies of Accessible Properties will be able to obtain income related rents and the most important point of all for me we still have the much needed social housing that the city needs.
In March 2019 Accessible Properties will be paying the balance of the sale price ($18.8m plus GST) to the Hamilton City Council. This money could go into the coffers or it could also be an investment into the much needed social housing that Hamilton needs. The council may not have to get back ‘‘into the game’’. The council could very easily allow Accessible Properties to keep the money with the understanding that they invest the money in more social housing. There is also the option of giving the money to an organisation like Habitat for Humanity which gives people a hand up to fill their basic needs for housing.
We can all see the current detrimental effect that homelessness is having on individuals and families; we can see the current effect homelessness is having on our children. What we really have yet to see is the detrimental effect that homelessness is going to have on the city of Hamilton in the long term. We have an opportunity to do something about social housing here in Hamilton with the dividends of the 60-year investment that Hamilton did put into social housing.
Peter Humphreys is manager of the Hamilton Christian Nightshelter.