Nelson pensioners stressed by decision to sell community housing

2019-06-11 07:56:53

Nelson pensioners fear they may have to find somewhere else to live, after the city council voted to sell its community housing.

The decision to sell the 142 properties, home to 152 people aged 55 or older, passed with only councillor Tim Skinner "strongly" against the sale.

Eveleen Berthelsen, 79, who has lived in her community housing unit on Waimea Road for 20 years, said a statement in the sale proposal that current tenants would remain in their homes, was an "empty promise".

"This is a group of people who could be voted out at the end of this term, they can't make that promise," Berthelsen said.

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"If they sell it to an organisation who just sees it as a money maker ... then there are 140 odd residents in jeopardy."

Berthelsen feared the land the homes sat on could be redeveloped, or that the housing units would be sold off as people died or moved out.

An owner like Housing New Zealand could bring in families, changing the village community dynamic in flats, where its 20 or so tenants "looked out for each other," she said.

"We wait with a space in our stomachs to see what's going to happen," she said.

81-year-old Stan Walker feared "tossing 20 odd people out on a whim could happen."

He waited three years to get into his unit on Waimea Rd, having lived previously in council-run community housing in Paraparaumu, where rent was "half the price".

Walker questioned if rent would rise after a sale, or whether a new owner would redevelop the land.

"It would be a pretty good investment for anybody. Why the council is selling it, I have no idea."

Nelson city councillors agreed to sell partly because of the cost of maintaining and refurbishing the housing, which is estimated to be $20 million within 25 years.

The idea that another community housing provider would also be able to develop more housing was also attractive.

There were also concerns rate-payers were subsidising the pensioners rent by $160,000 per year. This figure works out to $8 per rate-payer.

Skinner said the $20m figure to do up the houses, when spread out over 142 properties and over 25 years, did not amount to much.

"Once that asset is gone, it's gone," he said.

Skinner was concerned that potential new owners would accommodate pensioners who could not afford market rents."

Housing New Zealand has previously said it was interested in purchasing the housing.

When approached for comment, it would only say that it was carrying out due diligence.

Nelson Tasman Housing Trust, which currently manages the properties for the council, was drawing up a proposal.

Trust director Carrie Mozena said the organisation was "concerned about being in competition with Government".

"We would rather be in a situation where we're all sitting down together and looking at how can we help people in need."

While the trust had a "smaller balance sheet" than Housing NZ, it had "substantial experience in developing warm dry healthy housing for Nelson," Mozena said.


She was concerned any other provider would not be able to be in as frequent contact with tenants as the trust was, and would have a different tenant selection process.

"We're always looking at ... trying to help create compatible, functional, sustainable communities of people living closely together. Not all providers are able to do that."

In contrast to councils, housing providers can access income-related rent subsidy from the Government.

If the trust accessed that, rent would not change much, Mozena said.

"We would be looking to continue a focus on older persons' housing. And as there is Government funding available, looking to really carefully increase the density over time."

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said at the meeting on Friday the wellbeing of tenants would be a top priority during any sale.

Any discussion of price could not be discussed in public, she said.

Councillor Mel Courtney asked for an "iron-clad guarantee that there will be no change for existing tenants", but was told that this was not possible.

The council's group manager of strategy and communications Nicky McDonald said the guarantee was not included in information which had gone out for public consultation, and so could not be given.

"It looks to protect tenant well-being, but does not fix in place things like the age of criteria being 55 years," she said.

Councillor Gaile Noonan said one of the aims of the divestment, was to increase the number of houses available.

Councillor Dahlberg agreed, saying that divesting the properties to a professional group that could "build on that source" was "the best option for everybody".

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