Housing charity Habitat for Humanity has asked the Government to consult state house tenants before selling up to 1600 state houses in Tauranga and Invercargill.
Habitat chief executive Claire Szabo said she had asked the head of the Treasury's transactions unit managing the sale, Stacey Wymer, to "give tenants a voice" in the process.
"They could survey people, hold public meetings with tenants, have a tenant advisory group - maybe setting one up should be compulsory for the winning consortium," she said.
"Or they could come out with selection criteria for the preferred bidder including that tenant participation should be front and centre."
Her approach came after a series of Treasury presentations about the proposed sales to "potential market participants" in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Tauranga and Invercargill.
A list of participants posted on the Treasury website shows that the meetings drew 168 people from community housing providers, social services, iwi, financiers, philanthropists, developers, councils, project managers and other advisers.
Almost all were NZ-based but the list included Queensland-based Horizon Housing and infrastructure developers Plenary Group from Australia and John Laing from Britain.
Ms Szabo said she attended to make sure someone advocated for the tenants.
"The tenants are [seen as] almost a liability, they are just a cost," she said.
"I asked a question at the Wellington meeting. I said it's really important to understand the tenants before we can propose services and know that we are the right people. What information is going to be made available to help us understand tenants and their needs?
"There was a very awkward silence. It didn't appear to me that they had thought it through."
She said Habitat might door-knock the 1250 tenants in Tauranga and 370 in Invercargill whose homes have been chosen as the first to be put up for sale in a process which the Government has said may involve selling between 1000 and 2000 state houses a year over the next three years.
"We are thinking about whether to approach the tenants in Tauranga and Invercargill," she said.
Salvation Army social policy director Major Campbell Roberts said tenants in British council housing estates were given a vote on whether to transfer their homes to new housing associations in the 1980s and '90s.
"I think it is a really critical issue. There needs to be a way of involving the tenants, otherwise these transfers will become very difficult indeed," he said.
However the director of Tauranga's Te Tuinga Whanau Support Services Trust Tommy Wilson, who has signed a memorandum of understanding with IHC-owned Accessible Properties to form a consortium to buy some or all of the Tauranga state houses, said he was already advocating for the tenants.
"We have a huge emergency housing crisis, 82 per cent of people walking through our door need somewhere to live," he said.
Accessible Properties chairman Paul Adams, a Tauranga-based property developer who owns Carrus Corporation, said the consortium would want to meet "a cross-section of them [tenants] at the very least".
"I don't think it would take too long to convince them we would bring a better service to them," he said. "The first advantage is that they would have better tenancy contact. Without dumping on the Government too much, once you have gone through the process [as a Housing NZ tenant] you get handed the keys and you are never seen again. That is not the way to operate a portfolio like this."
Mr Adams said he was also talking to local iwi and expected to offer prices based on the houses' future rental value minus costs such as maintenance, rates and improved tenancy services -- well below currently inflated market values based on expected capital gains.
"Hazarding a guess, they are worth between a third and 50 per cent of the market value," he said.
The Treasury's director of commercial operations Chris White said ideas from Habitat and others about involving "tenant perspectives" would be considered for the "market sounding" stage of the sale process, due to start next month, and when potential buyers are asked to submit formal expressions of interest in September or October.
"Tenant-focused criteria will be used to evaluate proposals for housing transfers," he said. "Potential housing providers will be asked to demonstrate 'community links that achieve better outcomes for tenants'. They will also be evaluated on the quality of their tenancy and property services."
He said details would be released for the market sounding stage about tenants' needs, ages and household makeup. Full details on individual tenants would be provided at the final stage of seeking requests for proposals in December or January.