A notice of motion has been filed to freeze all rent increases for Wellington City Council social housing tenants next year and create a discretionary hardship fund for them.
The proposed changes would make an immediate difference to the lives of tenants, but would require rates funding or increased borrowing.
Meanwhile, Wellington mayor Andy Foster earlier this morning announced a taskforce on the council's social housing to address its dire financial outlook.
It's all unfolded in the middle of a planning and environment committee meeting where councillors are discussing drastic changes in the city's draft district plan to allow for more housing development.
City Housing is in financial trouble and forecast to be insolvent by June 2023. It has 1927 properties and 3200 tenants.
Wellington City Council is lobbying the Government to give its tenants access to the Income Related Rent Subsidy, which means those on low incomes wouldn't pay any more than 25 per cent of their income on rent.
As many as three-quarters of City Housing tenants currently pay more than 35 per cent of their income on rent. Furthermore, gaining access to the subsidy would turn City Housing's operating deficit into a surplus.
Social, cultural and economic committee chairwoman councillor Jill Day is behind the notice of motion with councillor Fleur Fitzsimons seconding it.
They want to put five proposals on the table.
Two of them relate to the council's affordable rent subsidy, which is for tenants paying more than 35 per cent of their incomes in rent.
Fitzsimons said there was currently not enough money in the discretionary fund to meet this need.
They want to top up the fund using rates and amend the criteria for the subsidy to ensure all eligible tenants benefit from it.
Day said she was motivated to help tenants now who were suffering from high rents.
"These proposals may require rates funding or increased borrowing. Many Wellingtonians think that we already support City Housing through rates, this is not the case.
"I am proposing this as an interim step while the council works with the Government to ensure that City Housing is financially sustainable well into the future."
A rent increase freeze for 2022 and a new discretionary hardship fund for tenants living in material hardship are also being proposed.
The final proposal is to translate the Tenants Welcome Pack, Tenant Newsletter and formal communication, into te reo Māori, Arabic, Tamil, Farsi, Mandarin/Cantonese, Spanish, Samoan, Russian, Cambodian and Hindi.
Fitzsimons said the translation of important documents into the main first languages of tenants was critical in helping to address the power imbalance between the council and tenants.
The notice of motion has been signed by councillors Rebecca Matthews, Jenny Condie, Teri O'Neill, Fitzsimons and Day.
It has been filed with the council's chief executive today.
On announcing his mayoral taskforce for social housing, Foster said the council owed it to tenants to "look beyond bandaid solutions".
He said the taskforce would tackle challenges with the future sustainability of social housing and alleviate financial hardship experienced by tenants.
It will include councillors, social housing and public health experts, and tenants.
The hardship experienced by tenants in media reports and a community meeting has influenced the decision to create a taskforce, Foster said.
"Hearing directly from a wide range of tenants on their real, everyday hardship has made very clear that we must find solutions, and do that together with the Government, our tenants and key social services organisations, so that our tenants have enough income left over after paying rent.
"We have 3500 tenants, many of whom are among the most marginalised in our community. This is about being kind and caring. It's clear that Covid, housing market forces, and increases in the overall cost of living are exacerbating these challenges."
Foster said he wanted to create long-lasting, sustainable solutions.