7 Mar 2017

No confusion over govt social housing count - minister

1:00 pm on 7 March 2017

The Social Housing Minister says there's nothing surprising about the government having two entirely different methods of counting the number of social houses.

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams says there's nothing surprising about the government having two entirely different methods of counting the number of social houses.

State houses in Northcote

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

In its annual report, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment said there were 60,995 social houses places available in 2016.

But Ms Adams says there were actually 66,000 places.

Ms Adams said one method counted only houses where an income-related rent subsidy (IRRS) was being paid by the government, while she included houses where it was not.

"Both are relevant numbers," she said. "There's no confusion."

"We have a system of eligibility for a social housing place, a lot of which is linked to affordibility and income support. So that's why IRRS makes up the biggest part of it.

"But there are people who are, quite validly and quite properly, in a social house even though they're not receiving IRRS.

"So for me the issue is, once you're eligible for a social housing place, having the number of social houses to meet them.

Ms Adams said that was why she looked at the social housing places available, "because that's whats matched up with eligibility and demand".

Amy Adams. 6 December 2016.

Social Housing Minister Amy Adams. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The income-related rent subsidy subsidies are paid for people living in a social house - usually a state house but also homes owned by community providers - and tops up their rent to the market rate.

The government is aiming to provide 65,000 income-related rent subsidies by the middle of next year.

Asked for an update on how many social housing places it believed were in New Zealand right now, MBIE referred RNZ to the Ministry of Social Development.

Labour's housing spokesperson Phil Twyford had said it was disturbing that government ministries were not on the same page.

"I don't think it's credible for one arm of government to be claiming that there are 5000 more state housing places than another arm of government," he said.

Phil Twyford

Labour's housing spokesperson Phil Twyford Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

"And it just shows when it comes to housing, and when it comes to building more houses, this government is in total disarray."

He said the approach by MSD was not legitimate.

"It's just not plausible to be counting houses that are around the country, lying vacant, boarded up, and many of them being readied for sale - I mean, those are not houses that people can live in.

"And if they're not supported by an actual income related rent subsidy, and there isn't someone actually living in them, then it's kind of bonkers for the government to be claiming them as state housing places."

Green Party social housing spokesperson Marama Davidson said it was farcical.

"What is it going to take for someone to get the sack," she said. "They're continuing to undermine the extent of the housing crisis. Just last week Bill English had to fess up that they have blown the emergency housing budget that they had for a year in just a couple of months."

Mrs Davidson said it was further evidence the government was out of its depth on housing.

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