Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Ministry takes over state house allocation

Dr Huhana Hickey. Photo / Robert Trathen
Dr Huhana Hickey. Photo / Robert Trathen

A leader of Auckland's disabled community believes she may be in the first batch of 800 state house tenants being targeted for possible eviction after the Social Development Ministry takes over state house allocation from today.

Dr Huhana Hickey, who chairs Auckland Council's Disability Strategic Advisory Group, pays market rent of $399 a week for her three-bedroom state house in Papatoetoe because of her income of about $52,000 a year as a health researcher at AUT.

All state house tenancies will be legally reviewable from today under a Social Housing Reform Act passed last year, ending the historic policy that a state house was "a house for life".

A Cabinet paper says the first 800 tenants to be reviewed in the financial year starting this June will be those paying market rents who have no children and are in "areas of adequate supply of alternative housing options".

Dr Hickey, 52, ticks the first two boxes, although it is not yet known how the ministry will define an adequate supply of alternative housing.

The Cabinet paper says 27 of the first 800 tenants are "permanently and severely disabled" and a further 136 are aged 65 or over. Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Housing Minister Nick Smith said in the paper that they had decided not to exempt disabled and elderly people from reviews, at least initially.

"As reviewable tenancies become embedded and we learn more about clients and their situations, we will consider whether there is any need for exclusions of certain groups from the reviewable tenancy process," they said.

Dr Hickey, who uses a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, is a qualified barrister and was working part-time at the Auckland Disability Law Centre when she qualified for her state house in 2008. She paid market rent from the start.

"I wouldn't have qualified except that I had disabilities and there was no suitable housing in the private sector," she said.

Another disabled tenant had been in the house before her, with ramps and a modified bathroom.

She said she would be happy to move into a private rental but could not find one with the modifications and with a fenced yard for her mobility service dog, Finn.

"You need security of housing for the elderly and disabled because our situation is not going to change," she said.

Social Development Ministry general manager Marama Edwards said no disabled or elderly people would be asked to leave state houses unless they were able to do so.

"The review process will be carried out carefully and will consider all peoples' individual circumstances. Only people who can afford to and are able to sustain moving into private housing will do so. No one will have to leave a state house without alternative housing being available to them," she said.

Community housing agencies will also become eligible for the same income-related rent subsidies as Housing NZ. Ms Edwards said the ministry received 27 responses from community agencies in response to a request for information from agencies interested in providing social housing, which closed this week.

State house changes from today

* Ministry of Social Development (MSD) takes over state house allocation from Housing NZ.
* Community housing agencies can also get income-related rent subsidies.
* All state housing tenancies will be reviewable, ending the "house for life" policy.

- NZ Herald

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