Tenants are staying in state houses for longer, placing more pressure on a long waiting list for public housing. The National Party says the Government needs to review more of their tenancies. But analysis shows that will do little to free up state houses.
The National Party will put an end to a "state house for life" if it gets into power next year.
It partly blames the Coalition Government's halt to most tenancy reviews for the huge increase in the waiting list for public housing - now at more than 13,000 households.
Official reports, however, paint a different picture. They say expensive housing and ageing tenants are the main reasons that people are staying in state houses for longer.
The tenancy reviews, introduced five years ago, check whether an individual or family is earning too much to qualify for state support. They can lead to tenants being moved into the private rental market.
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National social housing spokesman Simon O'Connor said the Government's new exemptions for tenancy reviews were so broad that they were a "joke".
"National will reinstate tenancy reviews and we won't be accepting the exemptions either," he said.
Associate Housing Minister Kris Faafoi said a reversion to National's old policy of reviewing most tenancies would simply lead to elderly, disabled and others being thrown out of their state houses.
"This demonstrates pure National Party callousness," he said.
In 2014, the National-led Government radically reformed state housing , driven by the idea that giving people a "house for life" without conditions was a waste of money and human potential. Among the changes were the introduction of tenancy reviews for households which were paying close to market rent.
State house tenants pay no more than 25 per cent of their income on rent, and the Government tops up the rest. In an emotional debate on the 2014 law changes, National MPs highlighted tenants who were earning more than $100,000 while living in a state house.
After the law change, 14 per cent of Housing New Zealand tenants were exempted from reviews because they were older than 75, in houses modified for their needs, or had agreed lifetime tenure.
When the Coalition Government came to power in 2017, then-Housing Minister Phil Twyford put a halt to all tenancy reviews. He later broadened the exemptions to anyone older than 65 and introduced new exemptions for families with dependent children under 18, severely disabled people, and full-time carers.
That increased the proportion of protected tenants from 9000 (14 per cent) to 52,000 (81 per cent).
"The exemptions that are currently been put forward … are so broad that it's almost a joke," O'Connor said. "It's up to 80 per cent of tenants. Even if it was 50 per cent it's a joke."
Since the reviews were put on hold and exemptions broadened, the waiting list has gone from 5300 to 13,500.
In a report for Twyford last year, the Ministry of Social Development confirmed state houses tenants were staying in their houses for longer - but not because they were avoiding tenancy reviews.
"This is due to a mix of flat incomes for public housing tenants, an ageing tenant population, differing incentives between accommodation support products, and rising unaffordability of housing in the private market," the report said.
Tenancy reviews were not the main driver of exits from public housing, the report also said. Between January 2015 and 31 March 2018, just 5.5 per cent of exits came a result of a review. Furthermore, reviewing the tenancies of the households exempted by the Government was likely to find that they still needed their state house.
O'Connor said that when demand for housing was so high, any gains counted.
"With the [waiting list] has doubled, every efficiency, even if it's only a 5 per cent turnover, becomes important. Simply bringing back tenancy reviews is not going to fix the problem, but it would be an important part."
Faafoi said the exemptions were expanded to protect older New Zealanders, children and disabled people.
"We did this because we need to support and look after these people, rather than saddling them with the kind of unnecessary stress and anxiety, National's punishing policy to throw them out of public housing would cause."
Official advice on tenancy review exemptions: