Taxpayers pay millions for unnecessary meth clean-up
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.
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.