23 Sep 2011

Minister can't intercede for 'desperate' housing trust

6:09 am on 23 September 2011

Housing Minister Phil Heatley says he cannot intercede with Westpac to help a Far North trust deal with threatened mortgagee sales.

He Korowai Trust in Kaitaia has saved more than 350 homes from forced sales by working with the owners - mostly Maori, mostly in Northland - and negotiating with the banks.

But it says there is an alarming increase in forced sales of former Maori Affairs homes in Northland, and it is desperate to streamline its dealings with the mortgagee, Westpac's Home Mortgage Company.

The mortgages on the houses were sold to Westpac in 1999 and the government agreed to cover any losses made by the bank in the event of mortgagee sales.

He Korowai manager Ricky Houghton says 40% of the cases he's dealing with involve the Home Mortgage Company, but dealing with it is a nightmare.

He says he has left more than 20 messages on the company's answerphone and even gone to Auckland in the hope of making direct contact - but without success.

Mr Houghton says he has appealed to Mr Heatley to call the company and encourage it to communicate with him.

'Unremitting pressure' on family budgets

A spokesperson for Mr Heatley says it would be entirely inappropriate for a government minister to direct a bank to deal with a third party over a private mortgagee sale.

However, he says, the Government will continue to honour its agreement with Westpac to repay any unrecovered debt once a house is sold.

Mr Houghton says He Korowai Trust is currently working with 40 families who are in danger of losing their properties, including two farms; and another 25 families on its waiting list need urgent help to avert a mortgagee sale.

He says the latest surge in threatened mortgagee sales is a result of unremitting pressure on the budgets of families already living on the poverty line.

When Te Manu Korihi asked Westpac for comment on He Korowai's concerns, a spokesperson said it was disappointing that Mr Houghton had had difficulty establishing contact within the Home Mortgage Company, and he will be contacted to see what help he needs.