My nana Elsie Macdonald was one of the early tenants in Napier's Henry Charles pensioner flats in the 1960s, after years of living with her eldest daughter. She had suffered a stroke when she was 47 so lived with family because her left eye and side were affected.
She gradually got better and in 1960 when the flats went up her doctor certified her for independent living and she moved in to Henry Charles. I can still see her sitting in her little living room, a pedal organ in one corner, all shelves cluttered with photos of children and grandchildren, with a picture of Jesus in the middle of the mantelpiece that lit up at night. It was her happiest place.
Walking in to Henry Charles flats today is not much different. Despite the fact they have no wheelchair ramps or accessible toilets, they have been insulated and the waiting lists are long. They are part of council's portfolio of 376 subsidised rentals, 304 of which are tenanted by seniors with limited incomes and assets.
Built with government assistance in the '60s and '80s, many are reaching the end of their time span and over the next 10 years will need an injection of millions of dollars to be refurbished or replaced.
This dilemma has been faced by many councils across New Zealand that similarly built pensioner and low-income flats with government support and some, faced with the need to find money to make them fit for purpose, have sold or leased them to Social Housing Providers (SHPs).
That relieves the ratepayers from paying for them and provides opportunities for more of those living in cars and motels to be homed. The existing pensioner tenants in these cities were not evicted but when they died or left, they were replaced by new tenants using different criteria.
And this is why I oppose selling our flats to SHPs, as such a move would push future pensioners into unaffordable market rentals. SHPs are funded only to house those on the Social Housing Register – people with the most urgent need for subsidised housing.
That enables them to charge only 25 per cent of the tenant's income for rent, the rest being subsidised by central government under the Income Related Rent Subsidy (IRRS). Councils are not able to claim the IRRS, which provides SHPs with funds to refurbish, build and even make a profit on social housing.
Only 8 per cent of those on the Social Housing Register nationwide are 65 or older, so selling or leasing what are now pensioner flats to a SHP changes the type of tenants.
The pensioner villages we now own would modify their focus and become home to young couples, single parents and people not able to get market rentals for a range of possible reasons.
While this would give some immediate relief to our shocking housing shortage (which central government should remedy but has been slow to do so), such a sell-off would result in a growing number of pensioners being forced to find market rentals.
Scrolling through one-bedroom Napier listings today, I find only eight, asking between $220 per week (needing $1100 up front) to $425 per week. For a single pensioner getting $411 per week, little if anything would be left for food, power and living costs.
A report released in 2016, The Retirement Sector Housing Demand Forecasts 2016-45, stated that about one-third of new-build housing in the Heretaunga Plains region between 2016 and 2045 would need to be retirement units to cater for our rapidly ageing population. This is about 3340, only half of which will be in retirement villages.
The rest must be to house those who enter retirement without the means of buying into a retirement village: pensioners with no house or a large mortgage and those dependent solely on the pension. Where will they live?
By 2038, one third of our residents will be 65 years and older, many of them will survive solely on the pension. Can we find it in our hearts and our budgets to keep providing affordable flats for these older citizens?
Many of us grandchildren have fond memories of our nana in her flat. Aunty Tui visited her daily. Cousin Gaylene ironed her hair there, "to try and look like Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary".
Cousin Jan popped in from Colenso and played the pedal organ. Cousin Edward always made a fuss of turning the pictures of all other grandchildren to the wall so only his remained visible.
I'm proud that I'm part of a council that built and has kept these flats over the years. It is my hope that we will not sell them off and that we will maintain, upgrade and build more for future generations of pensioners.
Maxine Boag is a Napier City Councillor for the Nelson Park Ward.