Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Council deal to benefit lonely elderly Aucklanders

Lonely elderly Aucklanders will soon have access to activity centres in council pensioner villages. Photo / iStock
Lonely elderly Aucklanders will soon have access to activity centres in council pensioner villages. Photo / iStock

Lonely elderly Aucklanders will soon have access to activity centres in council pensioner villages through a proposed council deal with the Selwyn Foundation.

A council committee agreed last month to start consultation on transferring the council's 1412 pensioner flats in 62 villages to a new company that is likely to be owned 51 per cent by Selwyn and 49 per cent by the council.

The proposed structure will allow new tenants who qualify for social housing to get the Government's income-related rental subsidy, reducing their rents from 30 per cent of gross income under current council policies to 25 per cent of their net income. The subsidy is paid for tenants of Housing NZ and community providers, but not councils.

Selwyn Foundation chief executive Garry Smith said Selwyn wanted to use the change to reach out to more of the 11,700 Aucklanders aged 65 and over (7 per cent of the age group) who said in a recent survey that they felt severely or very severely lonely.

The foundation already runs Selwyn Centres for older people at 31 Anglican churches from Warkworth to Waiuku, and he said more might now open in "some of the bigger villages".

"We could then look at wraparound services to actually allow the elderly of the city to live full lives, because loneliness and social isolation, as well as housing, is a huge issue in our community," he said.

"Services would be for all the community, not just the pensioner villages."

The survey, published by the council in 2012, found that men aged 50 and over were more likely (9.6 per cent) to be severely or very severely lonely than women (8.6 per cent).

However women live longer than men on average, so severe loneliness actually declined with age from 10.3 per cent of those aged 50-64 to 7.8 per cent aged 65-74 and 6.3 per cent aged 75-plus.

Retired public health promoter Margaret Devlin, who now chairs the council's seniors advisory panel, said severe loneliness was as bad as smoking for people's health.

"It's just not having any interaction with people and feeling totally isolated," she said.

A confidential report to the council committee, provided to the Herald, says the new structure will also enable redeveloping some of the pensioner villages into "mixed communities", selling some of the land to non-pensioners.

"The project will involve refurbishment and intensification to improve and maintain the current number of rental units, but will result in a smaller footprint, so that the land required for housing for older people will be reduced from 26ha," the report says.

"Essentially, intensification yields a net surplus of land to fund the regeneration costs. All land retained for the existing and regenerated social housing will be owned by council but ground-leased to the joint venture company during the joint venture term."

Wendy Bremner of Age Concern Counties-Manukau said more mixed housing would be welcome so that older people were not "siloed", but an increasing elderly population would need more social housing.

"My concern is that even if we maintain the numbers of houses for older people, that's actually a decline because of the growing numbers of older people," she said.

The council has a waiting list of 386 people seeking pensioner units and is processing a further 70 applications.

Panuku Development Auckland strategy and engagement director David Rankin said the council would consult with the public on the proposal during April and May. If approved, the new structure will start on July 1 for a term that has yet to be finalised.

- NZ Herald

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