James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

When a state house was for life

More than 500 tenants have been in their Govt-owned homes for over 40 years, and one couple has lasted 70.

Michael and Moepai Temata have lived in their state house since 1964 but are now being forced to move. Photo / APN
Michael and Moepai Temata have lived in their state house since 1964 but are now being forced to move. Photo / APN

Two tenants who moved into their Auckland state house two years after the start of World War II are still living there - more than 70 years later.

Nine other groups of people on a list of the top 10 longest state home tenancies have occupied their properties since the 1940s.

Figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show that more than 20,000 people - or 31 per cent of all state tenants - have lived in state houses for more than 10 years.

A further 6000 tenants have lived in their homes for more than 20 years, and more than 500 of those have been in their homes for more than 40 years.

The longest state house tenancy stretches back to September 1941 - just over two months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour during World War II.

The couple, whose address and details were not revealed, are still living at the Auckland home, and pay $130 a week in rent..

The Herald received other figures showing other tenancies that also began before 1950 - when a state house was a home for life.

One state tenant has been living at a Palmerston North house since August 16, 1944, and at least eight others have tenancies that began before 1950.

Alan Johnson of the Salvation Army's social policy and parliamentary unit said the numbers did not necessarily indicate a failure by governments to assist tenants into their own homes.

But none had had any meaningful policies to help people into home ownership.

"Over the past 20 years, more and more households are renting, so the experience of state tenants in remaining in rented housing is not exceptional," he said.

Mr Johnson said state housing should be seen as a way of supporting people through difficult times, and if circumstances were hard for the rest of their lives then people should have a state house for that time.

"Many people's circumstances do not improve significantly and reliably enough to mean that they can live modestly well without state assistance with their housing."

He said that if the Government were to aggressively pursue a policy of evicting state tenants simply because they had been occupying homes for an extended period then it should have realistic housing options for these people.

"These options just do not exist at present," Mr Johnson said.

Moepai Temata has lived in her Wai o Taiki Bay (Pt England) home with husband Michael since 1964.

But they are among several residents in the area who are being forced to move as part of the Tamaki Restoration Programme, under which Housing New Zealand will sell or redevelop more than 100 homes.

Mrs Temata said she and her husband had considered buying the property when it was offered to them but could not afford the mortgage.

Housing NZ's acting general manager of tenancy services, Symon Leggett, said the corporation owned or managed more than 69,000 properties nationwide, including about 1500 for community groups providing residential services.

Mr Leggett said tenants interested in buying a state house could register their interest with Housing NZ, and in the two years to the end of June, 62 dwellings had been sold to tenants.

He said the Government had introduced changes that had resulted in a shift away from the idea of a state house for life.

Tenancy reviews, introduced last July, now occur every three years or where changes occur in a tenant's living circumstances - such as an income increase enabling them to afford private accommodation.

"Someone's age wouldn't be a factor," said Mr Leggett.

"However, generally speaking we would work with older tenants living in homes that are too large for them, to move them into smaller properties or housing that is built for older people, in turn freeing up these properties for large families in need," he said.

No government subsidies are provided to help people buying a state house but tenants may qualify for a Welcome Home Loan, which has a lower deposit requirement than other loans provided by some banks.

More than 200,000 people live in Housing NZ's houses or flats.

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Do you know someone in one of the longest state house tenancies?

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- NZ Herald

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