Good Housing New Zealand houses are sitting empty or being sold while people in Whanganui are homeless, a woman says.

A long-time resident of Puriri St and a Housing New Zealand (HNZ) tenant herself, the woman has been taking note of empty HNZ houses in her area. She did not want to be named.

She's also been talking to fellow HNZ tenants who have been asked to leave their homes, and she's seen HNZ properties bought by people she suspects are investors.

The woman moved to Puriri St decades ago, and brought up her children there. In the early days there were a lot of children in the street, and they played sport up and down across the unfenced lawns.

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There are fewer children now and not all the houses now belong to HNZ, but most are occupied.

The woman

No 102 Harper St has been empty for at least a year. PHOTO/BEVAN CONLEY
No 102 Harper St has been empty for at least a year. PHOTO/BEVAN CONLEY

said Puriri St had a bad reputation, but it was a good street.
"I like living in this street. It's colourful. It's drama-ful. Someone's always chasing somebody up this street.

"Even the troublemaking gangs, if you left them alone, they left you alone."

In response to her concerns, HNZ area manager Keith Hilson says people can be asked to leave their homes for several reasons. It may be for antisocial or illegal behaviour, but is more likely to be because they are earning more and can afford to rent or buy a house in the private market. People asked to leave are helped to move into other types of housing, he said.

"It makes sense to free up their home for someone else who is eligible and needs it more."

And he said when houses are sold HNZ looks to sell them to first home buyers or the tenants that live in them, rather than investors. Often the tenants or first home buyers are provided with grants to help them make the purchase.

"We're really thrilled with the success of our First Home Programme in the city - there are many more home owners as a result, and it's really turned some streets around."

Mr Hilson says there are a total of 589 HNZ houses in the Whanganui District at present, of which 34 are empty. Of those, 11 are being upgraded so that they can be rented to eligible people. Most of the rest, 21, are being sold.

Between mid-2013 and April this year, 127 HNZ houses were sold. Mr Hilson said houses were sold when they were no longer required. The proceeds were used to upgrade other

HNZ houses and make them ready for tenants, or to buy new HNZ houses in areas of greater need than Whanganui.

According to HNZ online records, on June 30 there were 24 individuals or families with either severe and persistent or significant and persistent need, and only two houses immediately available to them.

On March 31 there were six houses immediately available and 29 individuals or families at those levels of need.

But Mr Hilson said those figures changed constantly.
"The fact we housed nine new families, around 36 people, in the month of July shows that we're actually doing quite a bit to meet demand."

In the process of investigating HNZ's role in providing housing, the Chronicle asked how, given the online figures, HNZ could say need here was low.

Mr Hilson said compared to many areas demand for housing help was not high in Whanganui.

"Generally speaking, we are meeting demand."
An unconvinced Ms X lays the blame for Whanganui homelessness squarely at the foot of Government.

"If they hadn't sold those houses, people would have homes. They can make all the excuses they like. People should be in their houses," she said.

Housing New Zealand sent this statement about its work:
"Housing New Zealand's role is to house people from the Ministry of Social Development's social housing register. The Ministry of Social Development assesses people for social housing, taking into account their income and whether they are able to afford or sustain private sector accommodation. If they are not able to afford private sector accommodation, they are likely to be eligible for social housing, which is subsidised by the Ministry of Social Development through the income related rent subsidy. Once someone is assessed as being eligible, they are placed onto the social housing register according to their priority need.

Housing New Zealand's relationship with people on the social housing register only begins once they become our tenant. We are just one of a number of social housing providers across New Zealand, and as our properties become available, we match them to the next highest priority applicant on the register.

Demand for social housing in Whanganui is no longer as high as it once was, and we are meeting demand from the register. We are continually housing new families as tenancies end - our latest figures show we housed nine new families during June for example.

It makes sense for us to sell properties that are not required for social housing, and reinvest the proceeds into maintaining and upgrading existing properties within the state housing portfolio. This is a responsible and sensible approach, and wherever possible we will sell properties to first home buyers with an additional grant to help them.

If demand changes we will look to bring houses back from the sales pool or purchase new ones - as we are currently doing in Palmerston North and in Gisborne. However, demand in Whanganui is not high at this time, we are continually housing new families and we stand by our approach to sell houses not required for social housing to first home buyers so we can reinvest proceeds into maintaining and upgrading our existing homes."