11 Jul 2016

Housing NZ confirms it will not pay govt dividend

6:01 pm on 11 July 2016

Housing New Zealand has confirmed it has told the government it will not be paying a dividend this coming financial year.

05072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Caucus run. Bill English.

Minister responsible for Housing New Zealand Bill English. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

And the responsible minister, Bill English, said because of the agency's house building programme, the government did not expect a return the year after either.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce backed that assertion while responding to a Labour Party announcement at the weekend that the party would turn Housing NZ into a ministry that would not provide a dividend.

This year's Budget shows forecast dividend payments of $38 million this year and $54m next year.

Housing New Zealand said it has signalled to the government there was no surplus forecast to be paid for the 2016/2017 year.

It said it has budgeted $1.8 billion over the next three years to build new houses.

Opposition parties criticise timing

The Labour Party said this was "panicked and desperate policy on the hoof".

Its finance spokesperson, Grant Robertson, questioned the timing of Mr Joyce's comments after Labour's package, announced on Sunday.

"The first we hear from National that they suddenly believe Housing New Zealand needs to retain that money to invest in state houses is the morning after an announcement by the Labour Party that Housing New Zealand will never be required [by Labour] to provide a dividend to the government," Mr Robertson said.

"This is not a coincidence, this is a panicked, desperate response from the government."

"What we know is that National has extracted dividends from Housing New Zealand over recent years and it's quite clear that National has seen Housing New Zealand as a cash cow in the past."

And he said the change left a hole in the government's accounts, from what was forecast in the Budget.

"At what point was Bill English going to stand up and say, by the way, $80m over the next two years that I've been expecting to get, I'm now not going to get."

In a statement, Housing New Zealand said it had budgeted $1.8 billion over the next three years to build new houses.

It said it had been signalling to the government for some time it was unlikely to deliver a surplus because of its work developing and maintaing its housing stock.

But it said the Statement of Performance Expectations showing that was still in draft, and had therefore not yet been made public.

The Green Party said it was pleased to see the government adopt its policy on Housing New Zealand dividends but said the ministers' comments may have been a bit premature.

"If Steven Joyce has jumped the gun and announced this then that's a sign that the government's housing policy is in disarray," co-leader James Shaw said.

"Having said that, if he's correct and they've decided not to extract a dividend from Housing New Zealand then the Green Party is obviously delighted that he's adopted our policy."

Mr Shaw said the Crown agency should not have to pay the government any money.

"We've been saying for some time now that it is insane to be requiring a dividend from Housing New Zealand at a time when people are living in cars and garages, and multiple families under a single roof," he said.

"Every dollar they make should be reinvested into building more houses."

United Future leader and government minister Peter Dunne said he would be surprised if Housing New Zealand suddenly did not have return a dividend, as that was not his understanding from the Budget documents.

"Be that as it may, it's really symptomatic of the sniping between National and Labour on the housing issue which I think is turning more people off than it is resolving the problem - it's certainly not housing anybody," he said.

"There are families out there struggling to get into their first home, there are families out there struggling to get affordable housing; none of this is doing anything to assist their plight."

Mr Dunne said the only way to achieve a focused and constructive debate was to bring everyone together in a housing summit.

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