Napier council to keep community housing after protests
Napier City Council has decided to keep its community housing portfolio, after protests outside its offices for days.
Many feared the council was going to sell its 377 homes for the disabled, elderly and low income earners, leaving residents in the lurch.
The council decided against that but to compromise, both a rent increase for tenants and a rates hike across the city are on the way.
Drivers had been honking their horns to support protesters, who have been outside the council buildings in Napier for days.
Protesters were holding big placards reading the likes of “stop sale of council housing”, “save pensioner housing” and “stop selling community assets”.
Napier council flat resident Colleen Fryer, who was protesting as a council meeting began yesterday, believed the council were going to sell them.
“We don’t know who we will be getting into our areas… I think we’d be better off to pay a little bit higher rent,” she said.
The council previously said its community housing funding was not sustainable so it needed to think of something new.
It considered selling them off to a community housing provider like the government’s state housing arm Kāinga Ora – but many residents believed that would make their homes unsafe.
Yesterday, councillors heard from locals angry that the council could consider selling its homes.
“We believe that the most vulnerable in our community must have housing,” Mark Cleary of Napier Pilot City Trust said.
“We know we don’t stack up well when compared to other regions… I think councils need to accept that they have a responsibility to be in the housing market, to be providing housing.”
“The tenants are under a threat and they’re not sleeping,” Dawn Bedingfield of Napier Housing Coalition said.
“The ones that ring me, they are scared.”
Most submissions urged the council to keep the houses and eventually, all councillors unanimously agreed.
Councillor Richard McGrath was happy, but acknowledged the funding had to be found.
“I’d actually like to congratulate the council and the community for this decision today – actually putting people first. We’re now scrambling to how we pay for it, so it means we actually put people first.”
Scrambling to pay would mean putting up rates and rents.
While Deputy Mayor Annette Brosnan supported keeping the houses, she had fears about the rates impact further down the track.
“When you’ve got young families who are struggling with living, you know, the cost of living, and who have bought houses, and we know that rates increases flow onto rents.”
But Mayor Kirsten Wise was optimistic the council had done the right thing.
“We understand that there will be some people that don’t believe rates should be used to fund council housing and we did receive some submissions along those lines,” she began.
“But the resounding support that we received through the submissions was that people were happy for a combination of rent and rates to actually meet that funding deficit.”
She was against selling them, as the houses would have been sold below market value to ensure the current residents could retain their rentals.
“Our community I’m sure would not be happy about the assets that they’ve helped build up being sold at a much discounted rate.”
She also said current local government reforms meant council responsibilities could change.
“I think it would’ve been premature and short-sighted to sell our housing portfolio when that may actually end up becoming a major component of what we’re responsible for going forward,” she said.
The rates hike could be nearly 2 percent, but Wise insisted the council would consult the community on this before it was finalised.