Nuns: State leaves homes empty as hundreds wait

By Simon Collins, Julian Lee

Sisters of Mercy Wiri Anne Hurley (left) and Margaret Martin found empty and damaged homes. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sisters of Mercy Wiri Anne Hurley (left) and Margaret Martin found empty and damaged homes. Photo / Dean Purcell

Two nuns are outraged that state houses in South Auckland in poor condition are being left empty by Housing New Zealand while hundreds wait for somewhere to live.

Margaret Martin and Anne Hurley of the Sisters of Mercy in Wiri surveyed the area and found two dozen houses unoccupied for extended periods. The nuns began the survey in late May and don't know how long the houses had already been empty.

They say some of the houses people eventually move into are in a disturbing state, some with boarded up and broken windows, others with graffiti on the walls.

Sister Martin said HNZ was not doing its job.

"Expecting people to live in those houses and look after them when the state isn't presenting them in a good condition to begin with is not good."

State house tenant Falakesi Fifita said the state house she recently moved into was cold and dirty.

Mrs Fifita has a heart condition and the nuns feel the run-down property is no help.

But the sisters are only scratching the surface of a much larger issue.

Housing New Zealand revealed this year that at one time there were more than 280 empty state houses in Otara, Wanganui, Napier and Hastings.

In July it was announced that 65 of 389 state houses - about one in six - in the Napier suburb of Maraenui have been empty for some time.

Housing New Zealand spokeswoman Marie Winfield said some homes were vacant because repairs were being done.

But this accounts for only a small fraction of the vacant properties - the agency is planning to sell many of its homes.

Ms Winfield said the reason for the vacancies was a decline in demand for state housing, which was different according to each region.

"Most of our demand in Otara is for large, four-plus bedroom homes - there is an excess number of three-bedroom properties.

Demand for state housing in Wanganui has been declining for years as people needing affordable rental accommodation in the town have better choice in the private rental market."

Housing New Zealand manager Sean Bignell said people no longer want to live in certain areas.

"We have a number of vacant houses in Maraenui because very few people want to live in the area, and those that do, do not want to rent the houses that we have available."

He said the vacant properties were attracting vandals and crime, and it was likely they would be removed.

The agency's new plans coincide with a Salvation Army report on the Auckland housing crisis which says the Government and Auckland Council are doing little to address the problem.

It cites a Department of Building and Housing report that estimates that Aucklanders will need 4500 houses a year more than will be available - a shortfall of 90,000 houses over the next 20 years.

- NZ Herald

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