24 Nov 2016

PM's childhood state home could be sold

7:13 pm on 24 November 2016

The government is trying to breathe new life into its stalled plan to sell off thousands of state houses.

Prime Minister John Key's old home on Hollyford Avenue.

Prime Minister John Key's old home on Hollyford Avenue. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

It has announced it wants to sell just over a third of its Housing New Zealand properties in Christchurch to a private provider, promising the homes will continue to be rented to social housing tenants.

The 2500 homes up for sale are in the suburbs of Riccarton, Shirley and Bryndwyr and could include John Key's old home on Hollyford Avenue.

The current tenant declined to be interviewed but another tenant, Katrina Burt, said Housing New Zealand did a lousy job of maintaining the home she shared with her four children.

She was willing to give a new landlord a chance if it meant getting things fixed in a more timely fashion.

"During winter we asked them to come and do some things because we've had a lot of things that weren't done with the house, and they kind of didn't start doing it until just now.

"We asked before winter and we had to have our kids sleep in the lounge because the rooms weren't warm, it was just too cold."

The government has just spent millions rebuilding or repairing state houses in the city's east and has no plans at this stage to on-sell these.

Some of the houses it is selling have gone years without any money being spent on them.

Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey.

Methodist Mission executive director Jill Hawkey Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English today evaded repeated questions from media around whether the government was simply flogging off its old housing for somebody else to deal with.

"We just want to see it redeveloped appropriately sooner rather than later. I mean a lot of this state housing hasn't changed since the 1960s and this is the best opportunity in a generation to redevelop some of these communities."

A private provider would do a much better job of delivering the upgrade Christchurch's housing needed, he said.

"Just the way government operates, it's not that good at property development. It hasn't done it on a large scale for a long time, we're just trying to get more people involved."

The Methodist Mission's Jill Hawkey was opposed to selling the houses, and said the government should be taking responsibility for upgrading and maintaining its housing.

"We'd rather see the government actually grow the sector rather than just shift houses from government control over to a community housing provider.

"There's no reason why the government can't do it as well as any private provider. It's just about ensuring that you are a good landlord and look after the property well ... and then provide some social supports to some of the tenants that may need them."

Otautahi Community Housing Trust chief executive Cate Kearney.

Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust CEO Cate Kearney, Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

The government's preference was to sell all 2500 houses to a single provider.

The most obvious candidate was the Ōtautahi Community Housing Trust, which already manages close to 2500 social units on behalf of the Christchurch City Council.

Its chief executive, Cate Kearney, said it was early days but she was definitely considering putting forward an offer for the homes.

"It's an opportunity, it's an opportunity for the tenants in Housing New Zealand houses, because we do believe we've set up a model of tenancy management that puts the tenants at the centre and aims at providing, we hope, more service to the tenant than was previously provided."

The government will hold what it's calling a market-sounding session with interested parties early in the new year, and hopes to have a buyer confirmed by late next year.

Whoever takes on the houses will sign a 25-year contract and will be required to retain them as social housing.

They won't be able to on-sell them without the prior agreement of the government.

The government closed Mr Key's primary school, Aorangi School, in 2010. The school had hoped Mr Key would intervene to keep it open, but he did not step in.

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