Housing trust trustworthy?
A Christchurch social housing provider has been billing the taxpayer – and tenants – more than it should by claiming dated, uninsulated flats are ‘‘A grade’’.
The O¯ tautahi Community Housing Trust (OCHT), the organisation that manages the Christchurch City Council’s 2400 social housing flats, receives more than $73,000 a week in Government funding from the Ministry of Social Development, covering rent subsidies for 480 tenants.
The country’s social housing regulator, the Community Housing Regulatory Authority, has raised concerns about whether OCHT is ‘‘trustworthy’’ after investigating a complaint from a couple the Tenancy Tribunal found were being charged $50 a week more than they should.
Kere Cookson-Ua and Tracy Collyer paid $300 a week rent for their 38 square metre, uninsulated and ‘‘somewhat dated’’ unit. That transpired to be the full market value, despite OCHT’s handbook saying the most they should pay is 70 per cent of market value (OCHT has since removed this paragraph, claiming misinterpretation).
The tribunal found the full market value should have been rated at $250, meaning the couple should pay $175 – and the authority agreed. Now, figures released to The Press under the Official Information Act show at least 12 other units at the Maurice Carter Courts complex in Spreydon have been over-valued; meaning both the tenants and ministry are paying the trust too much.
They show OCHT claimed funding from the ministry based on desktop valuations from Knight Frank that said market rate for an ‘‘A-grade’’ single bedroom flat was $294 a week.
By comparison, an ‘‘A+’’ flat (valued at $307 a week) should be one built after the earthquakes, which would require double glazing and insulation.
The tribunal effectively found Cookson-Ua and Collyer’s unit had a ‘‘B’’ to ‘‘C’’ grade value.
Knight Frank did not physically assess the flats because OCHT did not ask it to. The firm notes in a report the assessment was not ‘‘undertaken in accordance with our professional body’s requirements’’.
OCHT has appealed the tribunal decision, which the authority found was ‘‘at odds’’ with the trust’s purpose to be a good social landlord.
Community housing providers are expected to ‘‘be trustworthy, fair and consistent in dealing with tenants; provide pathways to housing independence where appropriate; and provide easy methods of communication with tenants’’.
The authority also found OCHT failed to comply with relevant legislation and was not ‘‘transparent and responsive’’.
The authority found Collyer and Cookson-Ua’s tenancy manager acted ‘‘cordially’’ and showed genuine concern for their wellbeing.
OCHT senior housing adviser Bob Hardie said the trust was reviewing the authority’s report and had already implemented some of its findings.
Kere Cookson-Ua and Tracy Collyer are awaiting repayment of rent after the Otautahi Community Housing Trust was found to have overcharged them. The order has been stayed after the trust appealed the decision.