11 Jan 2017

Sale of Christchurch state houses criticised

11:08 am on 11 January 2017

The selling off of state houses looks to be shaping up as a potential election issue.

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

Prime Minister John Key's old home on Hollyford Avenue is among the 2500 homes that could go on sale in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

In November, then Housing New Zealand Minister Bill English announced he wanted to sell 2500 houses in Christchurch to a private provider with the aim of speeding up the building of new homes.

The two architects of the state house sell off plan, Bill English and former Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett, now hold the top two positions at the cabinet table, and show no signs of backing down from the policy.

Former Labour Party president Mike Williams said there was little evidence private providers would do a better job of providing state housing.

"I don't think many people understand why they're trying to sell off state houses so it looks like just right wing ideology.

"I don't see anything wrong with the state owning and running houses. It's been doing this for at least 50 years."

Auckland's Hobsonville development was an example of where Housing New Zealand was doing a great job of building new houses, he said.

He believed selling them off could play badly with voters in an election year.

"Where under John Key you could shrug it off because he was such a pleasant smily kind of a guy, this may be a different matter if it's Bill English and Paula Bennett.

"Paula Bennett is known for what people call 'pulling up the ladder'. I mean she got free education as a solo-Mum but then abolished that when she had the ability to do it."

Housing Action Christchurch has been set up to oppose the sell off.

Its spokesperson, Sheena Dickson, said the type of civil disobedience seen in response to the demolition of state homes in Glen Innes could also be seen in Christchurch.

"We hope it doesn't come to that obviously, but yes we will take the action we need to take just to move things forward.

"So you know, we'll be drumming up the state tenants to do the same thing if they feel so passionate about it as we do, watch this space."

Ms Dickson said she wasn't aware of any evidence of private housing providers doing a better job of building new social housing than the state.

She said while Housing New Zealand could have done better, it also needed to be supported to do that.

"That begs the question - why they haven't done a good job. Will another housing provider do better on that scale on 2500 homes? We don't believe so."

Labour MP Megan Woods during caucas run April 2015.

Labour's Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Labour's Canterbury spokesperson Megan Woods said the government's stated aim of wanting to see its stock of old state houses upgraded has to be questioned.

Letters advising tenants their homes may be sold had also been sent to those living in new homes, she said.

"So when the government says it's about the state of the stock, they need to be absolutely up front with people about what is going on.

"Anyone can drive down Blenheim Road or around Rex Street and Elizabeth Street in Riccarton and see some brand new developments there that the government now wants to sell off."

The sell off could be a big issue in election year, she said.

The newly installed Social Housing Minister, Amy Adams, did not return calls on this story.

The government will hold what it's calling a market-sounding session with parties interested in the sale of the Christchurch homes this month, and hopes to have a buyer confirmed by late 2017.

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