Sunday, March 19, 2006

Kerre Woodham: Safe as houses in a home provided by the Government

In the olden days, or at least pre-1984, the policy on state housing was clear. If you were in a state house, it was your home. You moved into it, you kept it tidy, you cultivated a vege garden, you raised your kids in it, and eventually you died and your home became the home of another family.

The benefits of that policy were clear. If you thought of the house as your own, you'd take care of it. You'd also have a stake in the community and building communities was one of the foundation blocks of the first Labour Government.

Today, the policy is somewhat less clear. In the current political climate, the Government has to walk a tightrope between providing security of tenure and encouraging people to move into the real world of home ownership and mortgages.

The Government also has to deal with the remnants of National's housing policy. There are more than 60,000 people renting state houses, and more than 10 per cent of those are market renters - they moved into state houses during National's time, attracted by the lure of secure tenancy.

Now National's demanding to know why the Government isn't evicting those individuals camped out in state houses earning big bucks. In some cases, tenants are earning $70,000-$80,000 a year, and the top income-earner is on more than $100,000 a year.

Labour says it can't just boot those people out to make way for the 11,000 people on the state house waiting list.

Ninety-nine per cent of new tenants earn less than $300 a week and Government officials are constantly trying to encourage tenants to move on when they're ready.

The average length of tenancy of a state house is 7 1/2 years, although it's difficult to know whether tenants move to a state house in another area, or to a home in the private sector.

The Government's also hoping that initiatives like its Kiwisaver home loan package will see market renters become mortgage-holders.

Officially, it appears that the cradle-to-grave tenancy of a state house is over. But it also appears that if tenants decide to stay, no matter how their circumstances have changed or improved, there is precious little the Government can - or will - do about it.

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