Retirement housing rents in Central Hawke's Bay have been increased nearly 40 per cent and some residents are worried that this is just the start, and they may not be able to cope.
CHB District Council owns and manages a housing portfolio of 48 units built between 1969 and 1983 and says rental fees have remained relatively low for some time and not kept pace with market rates.
Council is experiencing increased costs to meet compliance and government standards, such as the Healthy Homes Standards, and chief executive Monique Davidson says council does not have sufficient funds set aside for the ongoing renewal, and upgrade of the flats for the future.
"Without increases in rents to meet increased costs, the activity will run at a loss and need ratepayers to offset the costs to operate the flats."
One resident of the retirement flats in Waipawa, who does not want his name published, says when residents were made aware of a planned increase — at a Christmas function last year — they asked to be informed of how much it would be, as soon as possible so they could be prepared.
"We were told in December there was a big increase coming, but they didn't let us know how much until late July," he says.
"Covid was enough to deal with, and when you get old you don't want to fight these things. You know you can't win and we have nowhere else to go.
"Council wants to bring the rentals to 75-90 per cent of market rent. But these flats were built in the late 1960s and have paid for themselves over and over. They weren't built to make a profit."
Rent for a single occupant in the Kingston Place flats in Waipawa has gone up to $172 per week, from $124.
In Hastings rents range from $113-$175 per week per unit and rents are increased annually by 2 per cent.
"We expect a raise each year, but this is $48 and that is the pits. These flats were built as social housing but that seems to have been forgotten."
New data from the Ministry of Social Development shows Hawke's Bay over-65s are the fourth highest in the country for hardship grants paid during a 19-month period.
Figures for the period of January 1, 2019, to July 31, 2021, which looks at hardship grants paid to clients aged 65 and over, showed a total of 6482 grants were paid in that time.
For CHB the numbers were 210 in 2019, 348 in 2020 and 261 as of July 31 for 2021.
CHB Mayor Alex Walker says the increase in numbers in 2019 and 2020 and the likely increase in 2021 was "unsurprising".
"The increase in demand for one-off hardship assistance grants is unsurprising, recognising that the region has experienced the double blows of drought and the effects of Covid-19 in the same two-year period."
But one of the Waipawa retirement housing tenants says: "I'm not entitled to any of that because I have some money in the bank. So I don't qualify ... but that money has to last me until I die.
"Council has directed those of us who are struggling towards WINZ for accommodation supplements, if we qualify. But some of us don't — and some of us don't want to become beneficiaries after a lifetime of work and paying taxes. I have a lot of anxiety about what is going to happen next year."
Another Kingston Place resident says the colourful plants in a planter pot on her porch are her "last splurge".
"I have had headaches from the anxiety since the rent rise began and it all sunk in.
"I have medical appointments in Hastings and family I want to visit in Napier.
"I'm thankful to have this flat — I think we all are, there's such a shortage of housing and people living in motels, but I'm concerned about how I'm going to manage.
"I will have to cut out treat foods and trips to see family. It's going to affect my quality of life ... plants for the garden, treats for my grand-daughter."
In accordance with council's Revenue and Financial Policy, the retirement housing is required to be "self-funding" with 100 per cent of its funding required to be from rental income, rather than any ratepayer funds.
Davidson says "in reality there is insufficient rental income to cover the full maintenance and renewal costs, and major increases are required over the next three years to see the housing meets its costs over the next 10 years.
"The majority of council's tenants will not pay the full increase, with the accommodation supplement provided by the Ministry of Social Development paying in some cases up to 70 per cent of the increase for eligible tenants.
"Tenants that are ineligible for the accommodation supplement will pay the full increase because they own assets or have savings that are greater than the accommodation supplement asset limit.
"We acknowledge that any increase in rent is difficult for tenants and decisions surrounding this are made with the utmost consideration of all options on the table," says Davidson.