Two bids to buy East Coast area stock could cost up to $300m
The country's second-biggest iwi, Ngati Porou, appears to be among the first in line to buy state houses, with a bid for all 600 state houses in its region estimated to be worth about $140 million.
Tribal chief executive Teepa Wawatai says the tribe has had two meetings with Treasury officials about its bid since the September election, when the National Government was re-elected with a policy of selling some of the country's 68,000 state houses to community groups.
Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, a registered community housing provider in the coastal area from East Cape to Gisborne, is negotiating alongside Te Runanga o Turanganui-a-Kiwa, which represents the inland part of the Gisborne District and wants to buy the rest of the district's 1300 state houses.
No values have been put on the two bids, but based on the average value of Gisborne houses in September of $232,250, the Ngati Porou bid could be worth up to $140 million and the overall deal up to $300 million.
The two iwi groups see the deal as potentially rejuvenating a region which has the country's second-lowest median income after Northland.
"We see this as being part of building new communities," Mr Wawatai said.
Turanganui-a-Kiwa chief executive Ron Nepe said both iwi already provided health and social services to many tenants and had marae connections to many families.
"We can add value to the families in those houses and give them other options besides being tenants, help them into affordable home ownership," he said.
Maori make up 61 per cent of Housing New Zealand tenants in the region stretching from Waikato to Hawkes Bay, but Mr Wawatai said iwi were keen to take on Pakeha tenants, too.
"We deliver health services to everyone in our region," he said.
But he said the Government also needed to retain some responsibility.
"Our concern would be about social housing, not welfare housing," he said.
"A lot of the current clients of Housing NZ, we would need to have a discussion with the Crown as to what is the future of those tenancies with respect to the obligations that the Crown might retain."
Ngati Porou received $110 million from the Government in 2012 to settle its claims under the Treaty of Waitangi, and Mr Wawatai said another partner would help finance the deal.
"We are ready," he said. "We are a long way ahead of most other iwi."
Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon supports the iwi bid.
"I think they will be a better landlord than the state. They are inter-generational, they want to look after their people and the community," he said.
Kaiti state house tenant Dave Willis, 64, said he would not be too happy to have his house "sold underneath me", but he felt Housing New Zealand had not maintained his house well and that iwi might do better.
"Anything's worth a try," he said.
"I don't know whether it would be better or not."