I have spent many hours over the years visiting some of our senior citizens in our senior housing complexes and I'm richer for the experience.
Our senior citizens have a wealth of knowledge and experience and should be respected for their contributions to society. In fact, it's due to this acknowledgement of their contribution to society and need for support in their later years that council supports assisting our seniors through housing.
This is a tricky one, however, as council is currently grappling with how we best provide this service, or otherwise, in the future. Hastings council currently provides nine complexes of 220 one and two-bedroom units for senior low-cost rental housing.
Recently council considered a report put forward by management to review the issue which arose from the legal requirement under the Local Government Act for council to review current arrangements.
The report outlines that council's social housing was developed when there was a consensus between central and local government that local government had a role to play in the provision of affordable housing to older persons of limited means.
Construction and subsequent upgrades were facilitated by the provision of interest financing from central government.
The council perceived the need for social housing for the elderly back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Today the need continues and has most likely increased with lower housing ownership rates, poorer housing affordability and an ageing population with a higher ratio of elderly residents who are renters. The current socio-demographic underpins the need for social housing in Hastings District.
Officers report that the demand for social support has increased in recent years and they believe the level of complex need is likely to increase. Officers advise that examples of social support work includes referrals to agencies, eg Age Concern, Work and Income, police, advocacy services, etc. Support can range from minor day-to-day support to more intensive support.
The question then becomes to what extent should council continue to provide senior housing and social support services? Or should it be contracted out? Who funds it?
The report outlines that the political landscape had changed significantly since the service began, with central government policy to divest 20 per cent of its social housing stock to third-party providers.
It notes that the Government is having difficulty achieving its goal, with a factor being the reluctance of community housing providers to accept the terms of sale offered by the Government.
That means in essence that the Government goals of having community providers purchasing and providing this service is not fully up and running to the extent desired. In the meantime, many councils are still providing the service.
However, a number of councils throughout New Zealand are reviewing the situation due to those socio-political and financial dynamics and have exited, I believe, in some places.
The report highlights that a critical issue to note is that third party social housing providers (Ministry of Social Development community housing providers) are entitled to receive the Income Related Rent Subsidy. The payment assists with the costs of provision of social support services to tenants. Local authorities such as councils are ineligible, however, to access the subsidy.
I agreed with the recommendations to review because this area needs to be looked at carefully. There is some merit in the prospects of a community provider or otherwise taking up the service of senior housing delivery. However, there are equally risks.
I do like the accountability function that retaining the senior housing through council provides, in that community can hold matters accountable through elected members and management through them.
Personally, if council retains the service, I look forward to seeing how the social support provision can be best delivered and what this could look like, as I think there are some fantastic models out there. With the social dynamics in our region and district I think it's timely we review this situation.
General consensus also was to re-advocate to Government seeking council eligibility to the subsidy available to other housing providers. With the state of housing in our communities we need to partner more effectively.
*Jacoby Poulain is a Hastings district councillor, a board member of the Hawke's Bay District Health Board and is on the EIT Council.