Redevelopment of state housing boon for suburb

By Doug Laing

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Maraenui has a chance to become "the new Remuera" in expected redevelopment of state housing in the Napier suburb, according to the head of one of the longest serving welfare organisations in the area.

With up to 50 three-bedroom homes in the area seemingly mothballed, Maureen Mua, chief executive of Roopu a Iwi Trust, expects some will be demolished, and others may be sold to investors in a likely switch to private ownership for much of the area's current Housing New Zealand estate.

Many of the houses, including several in Bledisloe Rd and Longfellow Ave, the borders of the Maraenui shopping centre, appear to be unoccupied as a result of HNZ family accommodation criteria.

But Ms Mua said the condition of many of the units, most of which were built during the housing boom 50 years ago, made them unsuitable for families.

"They're cold," she said, but highlighted an ongoing problem of double costs that many occupants had endured over the years, maintaining supply of both gas and electricity.

"Many would have had to decide, do they have hot water, or do they have power," she said. "If they have both, they can't afford it. One gets cut off, and then they're faced with reconnection fees."

It made some vulnerable families even more vulnerable, she said.

The situations have led to more and more encouragement for prospective tenants to seek private rental housing, which she said could be made affordable by accommodation supplements in some cases.

The number of untenanted units in the area seems largely unchanged, a month after HNZ revealed 51 three-bedroom homes in Napier were empty, almost all in the Maraenui area.

The vacuum is believed to have been created mainly by changes in family accommodation criteria, but most believe it is also linked to Government policy of selling assets. Ms Mua pointed to several units within view of the shopping centre offices of the trust which was established following a community think-fest in 1985, under a mandate from area Maori authority Te Taiwhenua o Te Whanganui a Orotu to provide family support.

She said she had been told recently that two, at least one of them appearing to have been empty since mid-2011, were definitely scheduled for demolition, with creation of more "green-space" among plans for wider enhancement of the suburb.

The situation has attracted concern from city councillor Maxine Boag, who is involved with organisations in the area, though not living within Maraenui.

She is concerned that private landlords will hand-pick more preferred tenants, leaving a wave of less-resourced people in a struggle for housing options using under-resourced non-government welfare organisations.

Figures sought by Hawke's Bay Today relating to latest occupancy of HNZ houses and units are expected to be available this week.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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