Tainui says it wants to spend "tens of millions of dollars" on buying up state houses as Finance Minister Bill English signals an open market for the country's 68,000 Housing New Zealand properties.

"We can sell to anybody," Mr English said in an interview with Herald staff yesterday.

Buyers would not have to be non-profit entities, and he said he had already had talks with consortiums involving major iwi and banks.

Tainui leader Tukoroirangi Morgan said his tribe had first right of refusal over state asset sales in its area from South Auckland to Waikato and wanted to use the right to buy state houses for its people.

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"We have a plan that is being formulated now," he said. "This requires a lot of money to be spent, so it would be in the tens of millions."

Mr English, who added responsibility for Housing NZ to his other portfolios in last week's Cabinet reshuffle, said the Government did not have a target for the number of state houses it wanted to sell.

But he said Housing NZ was too slow to develop new houses in areas such as Tamaki, and had failed its tenants by not helping them to become independent.

The agency stopped providing social services in 2011 to focus on its role as a landlord.

"If you are a sickness beneficiary and you get in here [state housing] because you meet various criteria, and you have undiagnosed or untreated depression, no one ever came and knocked on your door and said, 'How are you getting on, maybe you could work now'," he said.

"So where we are selling a house, it's not greed, it's to get all better houses instead of treating them like shit, which is what's happened with Governments and state housing for years."

He said the goal was to provide income-related rent and social services for everyone who needed them.