Aucklanders languishing on the state house waiting list are likely to be offered financial incentives to move to regions that have a surplus of homes, the
Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett confirmed last night that the Government wants prospective tenants to consider moving to regions where dozens of state houses are vacant - and in some cases could be offered thousands of dollars in taxpayer sweeteners.
Pacific Island tenants could be prime candidates for such a move, she thought.
"We've really got to shift some of the thinking with those that are eligible for state assistance for housing," Ms Bennett told the Herald.
"And that means thinking more flexibly and looking at other areas of New Zealand that have got great employment opportunities and secure housing."
About 2300 people in Auckland are rated as being in urgent or serious need of social housing, but the city's overheated residential property market is making it difficult to find places for them to live.
Prospective tenants in Auckland can specify two or three suburbs where they want to be resettled, but they are not given the option of moving out of the city.
Under the proposed policy, applicants will be told of vacancies in the provinces. They will be asked whether they have family in other regions and whether they will consider joining them.
"For example, there is such a strong Pacific Island community in South Auckland," Ms Bennett said.
"However, there is a strong Samoan community in Ashburton. There is a huge Tongan community in Oamaru, and I don't think we emphasise that enough and let people know that Auckland is not the only place that they can reside."
Housing New Zealand records show there are more than 100 vacant state houses in Lower Hutt, and a waiting list of 84 people.
In other regions, there are 30 or 40 vacant houses, though some of these are awaiting sale, renovation or earthquake strengthening.
To encourage people to shift to the regions, tenants' moving costs could be covered by the Government. In some cases, they could also get one-off cash payments.
"That's certainly one of the options that we will be looking at, and just how much that would be," Ms Bennett said.
Payments could be at a similar level to the $3000 offered to people after the earthquakes to relocate to Christchurch and take up full-time work, she said.
The policy would be voluntary and would not affect people whose children were settled into schools. But those who chose to stay on the Auckland waiting list were likely to face a longer wait for a home.
Mrs Bennett said she would take the proposals to the Cabinet in the next few months.
The proposed initiative would apply only to Auckland, but could be extended to other cities in future.
It is part of a package that will also temporarily remove people from the waiting list if they turn down state houses without good reason.
More than 400 people fell into this category in the past year.
As Social Housing Minister, Ms Bennett is overseeing major reform of the sector, including the sale of thousands of state houses to community organisations and iwi.