Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

$1 million bid not enough to buy state house in sought-after area

Bella Bowden, a Housing NZ tenant in Mission Bay is being threatened with eviction despite finding $1 million to buy the property. Photo / Michael Craig
Bella Bowden, a Housing NZ tenant in Mission Bay is being threatened with eviction despite finding $1 million to buy the property. Photo / Michael Craig

A supermarket worker says she has raised $1 million to buy her state house in one of New Zealand's most-desirable neighbourhoods - but Housing NZ is booting her out regardless.

Bella Bowden, 50, believes she was investigated by Housing NZ because her extended family came up with the cash to help her buy the small Mission Bay house she has called home for 11 years.

After she told the government housing agency she had obtained finance to buy the house, Housing NZ officials investigated her circumstances, talking to her neighbours and her boss.

They wrongly claimed she had a partner and a second job, she says, and have ordered her out by tomorrow.

The saga started last year, when Housing NZ sent her a standard letter inviting her to buy the two-bedroom house overlooking Rangitoto Island. The house, on a 1015sq m block of land, was officially valued at $920,000.

"I came up with the finance through whanau and they were quite shocked," Bowden said.
Housing NZ commissioned a second, independent valuation on the property and Bowden said she came under intense scrutiny.

"I had to go for an interview and they said I had an alleged partner and second job but I haven't," Bowden said.

In internal Housing NZ emails obtained by the Herald on Sunday, investigators Bernard Hollewand and Kevin O'Carroll refer to "buying time" for their investigation, and wishing each other "good hunting".

Another email, from Housing NZ senior product analyst Iain Duncan to Hollewand, said they should give Bowden the benefit of the doubt for a little longer, in case "there is a family inheritance [or] Lotto win behind her ability to pay back $1 million in three years".
Bowden rejects Housing NZ's allegations. She stacks shelves at her local New World, which pays a little over $400 a week. She has had the job for eight years.

And she said the so-called "partner" was her cousin Greg McDonald, who uses Bowden's address for post.

McDonald confirmed Bowden's claim and said he had a partner who lived in Tauranga. McDonald, who is Ngati Manuhiri and part-owns hapu land in Pakiri, said he had helped her raise the $1 million finance through 12 whanau members and a finance company.

"Bella has never done anything wrong, which is why she is happy to stand here and tell her story," McDonald said. "As whanau we wanted to help her buy this house so she has something for the future."

Because of the review, Bowden's rent was increased in April from an income-related rent of $135 a week to a market rent of $420.

She couldn't afford the increase and is in arrears for more than $3000.

She was also sent a letter saying she owed $122,912 for rent dating back to 2002.

In May, Bowden was told her application to buy the property had been declined and her tenancy would be terminated. She has until tomorrow to move out.

A Housing NZ spokeswoman said she could not comment in the tight timeframe before tomorrow's eviction but any investigation by Housing NZ was robust and taken very seriously.

"It is a very detailed process and we would have had pretty compelling evidence."

- Herald on Sunday

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