Exclusive: Occupant of Housing NZ's most expensive property convicted of benefit fraud

Tenants of New Zealand's most expensive state house - with sweeping views over Auckland's harbour - have been ordered out after one was convicted of benefit fraud.

Michelle Hawke lived in the $1.3 million home at 38 Takitimu St, Orakei, for 12 years with family members.

Herald inquiries have found that the 45-year-old was convicted on five fraud-related charges brought against her by Work and Income New Zealand.

Housing NZ confirmed yesterday that Hawke's 1940s, three-bedroom weatherboard home with a 1535 sq m section was the most expensive property on its books.


It had given her 90 days to leave and would not be rehousing her, it said.

Hawke's lounge looks out onto the Sky Tower, Orakei Domain, Waiheke Island and towards Bastion Pt, where her relatives occupied the land in 1977.

She is the whangai sister of former Labour MP Joe Hawke and his brothers Grant and Alec Hawke, who led the protests.

When the Herald reporter and photographer visited yesterday, they were greeted by a barking dog as Hawke and another woman filled a large skip in the driveway with items from inside.

Graffiti adorned fences and the section was covered in rubbish. The pair said they did not want to comment.

Two neighbours said that over the past year, they had been visited by investigators inquiring about Hawke.

One woman said: "They asked if I'd be prepared to appear in court, and wanted a statement.

"She had a worker living there ... They asked who was living there and did I know them. A lot of people come and go."

Another neighbour said: "An investigator came by about a year ago asking questions about where they were going and what they were doing ... They had lots of kids living there.

"The property is worth over $1 million. They could sell it off and get three or four sections out of that."

The Herald interviewed Hawke in December 2000. At that time the house was worth $510,000.

She was a solo mother of three, including a 6-week-old baby, and also lived with her birth mother.

She was hitting back at calls from Act and the National Party that her state house should be sold because low-rent tenants did not provide a decent return from such expensive real estate.

Yesterday, Sean Bignell, a Housing NZ general manager, would not go into detail about the case but confirmed that the tenancy had ended.

The corporation would now look at selling the property, which shares a driveway with $1 million mansions.

"The property has the highest CV of our stand-alone stock," Mr Bignell said, "and we will now look to sell it, as we have been doing with other high- land-value properties we have as they become vacant.

"Proceeds from sales are invested back into improving state housing by acquiring housing in areas of high demand. The house has never been modernised and only received routine maintenance by us as per our other properties."

A spokesman for the ministry that oversees Winz said: "We are happy to make comment at sentencing and we'll just hold off ... till that point."

Hawke will be sentenced in the Auckland District Court in December on four charges of using a document to gain a pecuniary advantage and one charge of obtaining more than $1000 by deception.