26 May 2015

Whanganui to push on with sale of pensioner flats

9:47 am on 26 May 2015

Whanganui is to push ahead with plans to sell all or some of its 275 pensioner units.

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Whanganui District Council wants to sell its social housing stock. Photo: Supplied

The district council has been hearing submissions about the proposal at its long-term plan hearings this week, but despite grumbles about the move it remains convinced a sale is the best way forward.

Heather McGinniss has lived at the Walter Nash flats in Gonville for more than a decade.

The 75-year-old said tenants of the 26 units in the complex had found the discussion about the future of the city's social housing stock very unsettling.

"Most of them are feeling very vulnerable. I mean, my husband and I have been in our unit now since 2003 so it's home," Mrs McGinniss said.

"And to feel at our stage of life our home may be taken from underneath our feet, it's not a nice feeling at all."

Mrs McGinniss and her husband Brian, 68, live on a combined pension of $1100 a fortnight, and pay $124 a week for their one-bedroom unit.

They were worried about what the future might hold if the flats were sold.

"Well, for a start, our rent would skyrocket. At the moment, with the pension we do live comfortably, but there's certainly no excess money for big outlays like that if we have to go to market rental value," Mrs McGinniss said.

She said they had their fingers crossed that their unit would not be affected by any potential sale.

Whanganui District Council owns 16 social housing complexes around the city.

They are considered a strategic asset, and valued at $14.5 million, but it said they cost up to $160,000 a year to run.

In its 10-year plan, the council said its preferred option was to sell between a third to half of the flats to a social housing provider, or to dispose of all of them to pay down debt.

It projected a sale to a social provider would raise between $2 million and $3 million.

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main said concessions were made during the long-term plan hearings, and community groups would be involved more closely in the sale process.

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main

Whanganui Mayor Annette Main Photo: RNZ

"So we'll be working alongside community agencies who have an interest part of our business to make sure that our existing tenants are looked after, and that the best possible future for community housing, social housing in Whanganui will be looked after."

Ms Main was adamant that no tenant would be put out on the street or find themselves in a worse position as a result of any potential sale.

"We've quite clearly said in the letter that was sent out to the tenants, and in all of our material, that any organisation we would look to sell to in the future, should we find one, would be contracted to actually provide exactly the same or even better service than they are currently getting."

Tenants of the pensioner flats have to be more than 55 years old, able to live independently and demonstrate limited financial resources.

About 260 tenants live in the one and two bedroom units at the moment, and although about 40 currently stand empty, the occupancy rate has been about 90 percent over the past four years.

Ms Main said the fundamental question that people needed to ask was whether councils should be in the business of providing social housing in the first place. She did not think they should be.

Don Burney who is on the Whanganui Grey Power executive however begged to differ.

"We really want to keep the status quo at this stage," Mr Burney said.

"Housing is a very important thing when your aged and it is very important to look after those people who have done their work, done their life and need looking after in the way of housing."

Whanganui District Council meets to sign off its 10 year plan on June 30.

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