Housing overhaul welcomed

Changes to the state housing sector are being welcomed by a Northland emergency housing group.

A bill to introduce changes to the social housing sector announced in Budget 2013 passed its first reading in Parliament last week.

The Social Housing Reform (Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Amendment Bill) allows private sector groups to replace Housing New Zealand as providers of social housing. Finance Minister Bill English said possible providers could include the Salvation Army, iwi groups and the Presbyterian Church.

Their tenants will receive the same taxpayer subsidies as state housing tenants, who pay no more than 25 per cent of their incomes in rent.

Tai Tokerau Emergency Housing Charitable Trust chairman Adrian Whale said he agreed with the principal of social housing as "some is better than nothing".

A least 100 families came through the Housing Trust's two homes annually, "and we turn away that many as well".

Families who were turned away either sought shelter with other family members, or in garages, caravans and even in their cars, Mr Whale said.

"[It's] not that conducive to a good family life."

Also announced in the Budget was the shift of assessing housing need from Housing NZ to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

Mr English said it was better to integrate housing provision with organisations that also provided support for people with disabilities and social problems such as drugs, alcohol and family dysfunction. The new system will be capped at $30 million over four years.

Also announced was a surprise move to shift 53,200 long-term state housing tenants onto fixed-term three-year contracts gradually from next year.

About 3000 long-term tenants will be moved out onto the private housing market under the policy.

The Government has also agreed to develop a warrant of fitness scheme for rental housing. The scheme, recommended by an expert group appointed by Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills, will be tried out on Housing New Zealand properties and may later be extended to private rentals.

- Northern Advocate

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